Scandal too hot for government to handle
By Roger Taylor
Halifax Chronicle Herald
Sat. Oct 27 – 4:47 AM
NOVA SCOTIANS should demand the provincial government call in the police to investigate its flawed business mentor program in an effort to repair Nova Scotias reputation as a good place for immigrants to live and work and the good reputation of many local businesses.
The mentorship program, which is part of a provincial immigrant nominee program, has been halted since last year while the government tried to mop up the mess on its own. But the abuses that are now coming to light related to the immigration scheme are beginning to sound a bit like another notorious scandal at the federal level, which took a full juridical inquiry to uncover.
Foreign nationals who applied to immigrate to Nova Scotia under the business mentor program, part of the “economic stream” of the provincial nominee program, paid $130,500 in fees to become residents of Canada. Of that amount, the province received $500 it dropped the $500 fee in May 2006 the private company that administered the program earned $10,000, the international agent who recruited the immigrant received $20,000 and an “economic contribution” of $100,000 went to a business mentor in exchange for providing a six-month apprenticeship to the immigrant. The immigrant was paid a minimum of $20,000 for his or her time but was taxed on that amount.
The fact that immigrants were willing to pay such a huge fee shows how eager people in other countries are to come to Canada. Some concerned people have suggested to me that the provincial program sounds too much like Nova Scotia selling admission to this country.
Most, if not all, of the participants thought the program would assist them to find a job in their field of expertise, as well as help them adjust to living in a new land; apparently most were sadly disappointed. I wonder what they think of Nova Scotia now.
Since the program was started by the Tory government in 2002, at least 806 immigrants paid the fees. While not all Nova Scotia businesses that participated in the program viewed the immigrant as merely a revenue stream, there is some evidence that other business people took advantage of the program but provided little benefit to the foreign national.
The Tory government admitted on Friday that a handful of businesses were cut out of the program because they didnt follow through with their part of the arrangement. The trouble with the taking the governments word on this is credibility. It wouldnt be the first time that a government tried to cover up the severity of the problem to protect its friends and to hide from any more international embarrassment.
There are doubts the provincial government was interested in helping to find suitable mentors for the majority of the immigrants seeking mentors to work with. Now the government is offering rebates of $100,000 each to about 600 immigrants who have not yet entered or completed a mentorship contract, at an estimated total cost of $60 million.
But there are strings attached, which could be described as being more stringent than the regulatory restrictions of the original program.
To qualify for the refund, nominees must be approved under the business mentor program and have a permanent resident visa.
They must not have already started or completed a business mentor employment contract. They must provide the government with evidence that they and their dependents have lived in Nova Scotia for a minimum of 12 consecutive months within 18 months of the date of landing in Canada and that they are still living in Nova Scotia.
After going through the business mentor program, many of the immigrants who participated have questioned the wisdom of their decision to do so. Some have been discouraged and have left the province to seek better opportunities elsewhere; unfortunately those people are not eligible for the provincial refund.
The Nova Scotia government should do the right thing and provide the partial refund of $100,000 to all the participants in the program, no matter where they now live.
The Tory government is concerned about how this scandal will tarnish the image of the province. But it isnt clear whether it is ready to go the extra mile to clear the provinces good name. The only way to achieve that is to help these immigrants and to have an independent review of how the program worked, so that the mistakes are not repeated.
Roger Taylors column appears Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.