Ontario has an infrastructure deficit — there is a lot of infrastructure that still needs to be developed, but very little money is available. This creates a bit of a challenge. “If we were to build all infrastructure on public balance sheets, we wouldn’t be able to get there,” said Bruce McCuaig, Executive Advisor of Privy Council Office. “Money isn’t free.”
McCuaig was a special guest at the Transit Alliance’s seminar on alternative financing and public-private partnerships. Over 80 people attended the June 20 event in hopes of learning more about the Infrastructure Bank and alternative financing models that can help push municipal projects forward.
The morning seminar began with a fireside chat between McCuaig, KPMG partner Will Lipson, and Transit Alliance Chair Brian Crombie. The conversation centered around the Infrastructure Bank, a crown corporation that will provide low-cost financing for new infrastructure projects. McCuaig is set to help launch the Infrastructure Bank through the Privy Council.
“It’s about finding the best financial model for the project,” McCuaig said. “Each on has different needs.”
Transit will play a big part of the portfolio, although clean water was also mentioned numerous times throughout the discussion. McCuaig stressed that a balance will be needed between public interest and independence within the crown corporation, and that decisions should be made using evidence-based analysis.
The Infrastructure Bank will be complimentary to Infrastructure Ontario, Infrastructure Canada, and other private agencies. KPMG said the corporation will bring about numerous opportunities for municipalities, providing more financing options than before.
“The government has been quite wise in implementing the bank,” Lipson said.
After the fireside chat, Crombie moderated a second panel that dealt largely with financing for smaller municipal projects. Special guests on the panel included Rob Pattison, SVP, LRT, Infrastructure Ontario; Don Dinnin, VP Procurement Services at Metrolinx; Olivia MacAngus, VP Corporate Development at Plenary Group; and Omer Malik, Vice President Project Financing at Stonebridge Financial Corporation.
Each member of the panel is involved in public-private partnerships or alternative financing, and believes that innovation and creativity are key when it comes to municipal projects. For most, the Infrastructure Bank is a unique opportunity, but not something to depend on. MacAngus and Malik both think there is too much unknown about the Infrastructure Bank. “We don’t need another traditional lender,” Malik said. “It should focus on a gap, where larger equity funds aren’t interested.”
Dinnin suggested the use of an agency such as the Infrastructure Bank to help spearhead the relief line in Toronto. Metrolinx, he said, has a number of funded projects using public-private partnerships, but maybe the Infrastructure Bank can fill the rest of that gap. “There is always more than one way to do something,” he said.
The collective solution to municipal infrastructure, as suggested by the panel, is hybrid-financing models and innovative thinking — partnering with the right investors to see your project completed.
The goal of alternative financing and public-private partnerships is to build and develop a project on time and on budget. According to Pattison of Infrastructure Ontario, the worst thing someone can do is drag out the construction phase.
The seminar also included a networking opportunity, where business and municipal leaders were able to approach these financial firms to discuss their personal projects and seek advice (or offer potential solutions).
“Expertise should always be evolving,” Pattison said.
Here are some photos from the event:
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More photos to come.
Photographs taken by Ethan Helfrich.