Feds could look to private sector to help close First Nations infrastructure gap
Seed fund would support housing, energy, other critical infrastructure projects
The federal government is considering ways to involve the private and not-for-profit sectors in its efforts to address the massive infrastructure gap on First Nations reserves.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced plans for a First Nations housing and infrastructure challenge fund on Friday, speaking at an event in Toronto organized by the Economic Club of Canada.
With the federal government set to invest $186 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years, Philpott said, many would argue that spending is needed most urgently in Indigenous communities.
First Nations reserves alone face an infrastructure gap with a price tag of around $30 billion, according to estimates from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships.
"We cannot do this alone," Philpott said. "The gap is too big and we certainly can't address this gap by doing business as usual."
New financing, procurement and design models are all needed to build and maintain some 80,000 housing units on reserve, Philpott said.
As a result, the Department of Indigenous Services is working with Indigenous partners to develop a fund that would provide seed funding for innovative projects.
Private and not-for-profit organizations could partner with First Nations communities to develop projects to improve housing, energy, broadband and other critical infrastructure, and see them built.
"While recognizing Indigenous rights, including treaty rights, I believe that there are significant opportunities to engage the private sector and the not-for-profit sector in this work," Philpott said.
Community-led infrastructure projects
Federal, provincial and municipal governments are increasingly turning to public-private partnerships as a way to build infrastructure more quickly, according to a report by the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships.
Meanwhile, the federal government has committed $600 million over three years to develop a 10-year strategy for on-reserve First Nations housing.
First Nations would play a leadership role in determining the design and procurement process for projects in their communities, said a spokesperson for Philpott.
"We will make sure that they are leading those processes, [while] finding partners that can help support new ways or innovative ways of doing it," said Andrew MacKendrick.