February 10, 2017 / 7:29 PM / 2 years ago

Canada may fund some infrastructure entirely from private funds

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada could finance some future infrastructure projects entirely through private sources, without using government funds, the special advisor for its new infrastructure bank said after his appointment on Friday.

Canada’s Liberal government announced last November it would set up the agency to supplement government investment in projects like new roads and bridges with funding from private investors such as pension and sovereign wealth funds.

The government advisory panel that recommended its creation had said it could look to raise C$4 to C$5 of private funding for every C$1 provided by taxpayers to fund projects.

However, Jim Leech, the pension executive recruited on Friday to advise the government on the bank, said it could go further with private investment on some projects.

“I’m sure that there are many projects that won’t need any investment from taxpayer money. They can be totally funded by the private sector,” Leech said.

New U.S. President Donald Trump has said he would launch a $1 trillion infrastructure spending program financed entirely by private sources. Infrastructure products are traditionally funded by a mix of private and public investment.

Leech said one of the challenges for the infrastructure bank will be that institutional investors such as pension funds traditionally prefer to invest in ‘brownfield’ assets which have already been built, while the greatest infrastructure need is for ‘greenfield’ assets which have yet to be built.

“I think that’s where the logjam is. You have, on the one hand, on a global basis, a lot of money looking for infrastructure to invest in but it doesn’t have the talent within those institutions to be able to assume greenfield.”

The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec is the only Canadian pension fund making large-scale ‘greenfield’ investments, having agreed to construct one of the world’s largest light rail networks in Montreal, a project which could become a test case.

“I think what the Caisse is doing is very encouraging. I was impressed to see they are building a team within the Caisse which knows how to assess some of this risk. I think that’s good innovation and there are things we can learn from it,” Leech said.

He said the bank would look at ways to make projects “risk tolerable” for financial institutions but declined to specify how they might do that. Infrastructure experts say they could provide guarantees on future returns or backstop some construction risk.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Andrew Hay

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