Posted on January 11, 2016

Frits Ahlefeldt-LaurvigSee part 2 of this series: Whose Canada Infrastructure Bank?

One of the most important legal cases in Canadian history is slowly inching its way towards trial.  Launched in 2011 by the Toronto-based Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform (COMER), the lawsuit would require the publicly-owned Bank of Canada to return to its pre-1974 mandate and practice of lending interest-free money to federal, provincial, and municipal governments for infrastructure and healthcare spending.

Renowned constitutional lawyer Rocco Galati has taken on the case for COMER, and he considers it his most important case to date.  

On October 14, a Federal Court judge cleared away yet another legal roadblock thrown in the lawsuit’s path. The federal government has tried to quash the case as frivolous and “hypothetical,” but the courts keep allowing it to proceed. As Galati maintains, “The case is on solid legal and constitutional grounds.”    

When asked after the October procedural hearing why Canadians should care about the case, Galati quickly responded: “Because they’re paying $30 or $40 billion a year in useless interest. Since ’74, more than a trillion to fraudsters, that’s why they should care.” (COMER says the figures are closer to $60 billion per year, and $2 trillion since 1974.)

The Fraudsters
Created during the Great Depression, the Bank of Canada funded a wide range of public infrastructure projects from 1938 to 1974, without our governments incurring private debt. Projects like the Trans-Canada highway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway, universities, and hospitals were all funded by interest-free loans from the Bank of Canada.

But in 1974, the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau was quietly seduced into joining the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the powerful private Swiss bank which oversees (private) central banks across the planet. The BIS insisted on a crucial change in Canada.

According to The Tyee (April 17, 2015), in 1974 the BIS’s new Basel Committee – supposedly in order to establish global financial “stability” – encouraged governments “to borrow from private lenders and end the practice of borrowing interest-free from their own central banks. The rationale was thin from the start. Central bank borrowing was and is no more inflationary than borrowing through the private banks. The only difference was that private banks were given the legal right to fleece Canadians.”

And that’s exactly what “the fraudsters” did. After 1974, the Bank of Canada stopped lending to federal and provincial governments and forced them to borrow from private and foreign lenders at compound interest rates – resulting in huge deficits and debts ever since. Just paying off the accumulated compound interest – called “servicing the debt” – is a significant part of every provincial and federal budget. In Ontario, for example, debt-servicing charges amounted to some $11.4 billion for 2015.  

What is key to the COMER lawsuit is that the Bank of Canada is still a public central bank (the only one left among G7 countries). Their lawsuit seeks to “restore the use of the Bank of Canada to its original purpose, by exercising its public statutory duty and responsibility. That purpose includes making interest free loans to the municipal, provincial, and federal governments for ‘human capital’ expenditures (education, health, other social services) and/or infrastructure expenditures.”

Deliberate Obfuscation
In February 2015, Rocco Galati stated publicly: “I have a firm basis to believe that the [federal] government has requested or ordered the mainstream media not to cover this [COMER] case.” Subsequently, the Toronto Star and the CBC both gave the lawsuit some coverage last spring and there was good coverage in alternative media. But given the importance of infrastructure-spending in the recent federal election campaign, it’s amazing (and sad) that the COMER lawsuit was so ignored, even by the political parties – especially the NDP.

With the Harper government touting its ten-year, $14 billion Building Canada Fund, and the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau promising to double that amount of funding by running three years of deficits, the NDP led by Tom Mulcair pledged to balance the budget. The NDP could have explained and championed the COMER lawsuit and even possibly utilized it to somehow justify the balanced-budget promise – a platform plank that likely cost it the election.

In August, Justin Trudeau spoke vaguely about financing infrastructure spending with a new bank. As a COMER litigant wrote in their newsletter, “During the recent federal election, Trudeau floated an interesting plank about creating an infrastructure bank. My first response was ‘You already have one. The Bank of Canada.’  My second question was, ‘Public or private?’ Again we see both the colossal ignorance and deliberate obfuscation of money issues in this country by our leadership.”

A Liberal Party Backgrounder explained, “We will establish the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to provide low-cost financing to build new infrastructure projects. This new CIB will work in partnership with other orders of governments and Canada’s financial community, so that the federal government can use its strong credit rating and lending authority to make it easier – and more affordable – for municipalities to finance the broad range of infrastructure projects their communities need … Canada has become a global leader in infrastructure financing and we will work with the private sector and pools of capital that choose for themselves to invest in Canadian infrastructure projects.”

It’s those “pools of capital” – including Wall Street titans like Goldman Sachs – that are set to profit handsomely from Canada’s new infrastructure lending and spending spree.  

In a cynical move, the Liberal Backgrounder doesn’t mention the interest-free loans of the past, but it does cite their results in order to tout the Liberal Party’s “transformative investment plan” for Canada: “A large part of Canada’s 20th century prosperity was made possible by nation-building projects – projects that without leadership from the government of Canada would not have been possible … the St. Lawrence Seaway served as a foundation for prosperity in Quebec and Ontario; the TransCanada Highway links Canadians from coast to coast; and our electricity projects, pipelines, airports and canals have made it possible to develop our natural resources, power our cities, and connect with each other and the world.”

Pools of Capital
Enthused about Justin Trudeau’s victory and his infrastructure campaign platform, Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times (October 23, 2015), “We’re living in a world awash with savings that the private sector doesn’t want to invest and is eager to lend to governments at very low interest rates.  It’s obviously a good idea to borrow at those low, low rates … . Let’s hope then, that Mr. Trudeau stays with the program. He has an opportunity to show the world what truly responsible fiscal policy looks like.”

Of course, borrowing from the Bank of Canada at NO interest rates would be even more fiscally responsible, and would keep policy decisions out of the hands of foreign lenders.


Joyce Nelson is an award-winning freelance writer/researcher and the author of five books.