Gov't misled Nova Scotians on immigration fees: NDP
The Daily News
The Tory government learned it was charging the highest immigration fees in Canada only months after it set up its provincial nominee program.
The NDP says that new information, contained in documents obtained by the legislature's public accounts committee, shows the government misled Nova Scotians.
Most immigrants who entered Nova Scotia under the nominee program paid $130,500 for pricey six-month mentorships with local companies. The province defended that charge until June 2006, when an independent review found it was the highest in Canada. The Office of Immigration suspended the mentorship program and dumped its private partner, Cornwallis Financial Corp.
In a March 1, 2003 e-mail to Economic Development official Francis Wolfe, Cornwallis president Stephen Lockyer said Nova Scotia's was “the highest-priced program in the marketplace.” He suggested reducing the up-front fee to $128,800 to create the “impression of having a lean price.” The balance of fees could be collected later.
He noted the lower initial fee would still leave Nova Scotia with the priciest program in Canada.
Premier Rodney MacDonald was Nova Scotia's first immigration minister, from January 2005 to February 2006. A series of briefing notes advise him to stick to the message that the province's fees fall in the “middle range.”
When The Daily News investigated immigration fees in February 2005, MacDonald said they were in the “reasonable range.” He repeated that message over the following months.
“The government definitely tried to mislead Nova Scotians on that issue,” NDP immigration critic Leonard Preyra said. “They knew the fees were the highest in the country, and no other jurisdiction had privatized the immigration function in that way. And yet they tried to spin this as a modest program with reasonable rates.”
Liberal critic Diana Whalen said the province probably knew it was charging the highest fees even before Lockyer's e-mail, written four months after Cornwallis won an untendered contract to administer the nominee program.
“If they didn't look at what other provinces were doing before they set this up it would have been a huge omission,” she said. “I'd be shocked if they hadn't.”
The documents show Ottawa was on the brink of shutting-down the mentorship program when Paul Martin's former Liberal government was defeated last year. MacDonald and former premier John Hamm fought to keep it going.
The federal government signed a deal with Nova Scotia in 2002 allowing the province to nominate 200 immigrants and their families each year. As early as 2003, Citizenship and Immigration Canada complained too little of the fees paid under Nova Scotia's program covered settlement costs.
In April 2005, the province learned Ottawa was planning to change regulations to prevent provincial nominee programs from including “passive investment” schemes, in which immigrants paid money to private companies but did not receive an equity stake.
Provincial executive director Elizabeth Mills wrote that Ottawa was looking for Nova Scotia to change its program so the bulk of mentorships fees were returned to immigrants in the form of salary. It also wanted to extend the minimum length for a work-term from six months to a year. Lockyer advised it would be difficult to attract mentor companies under those terms.
In the fall of 2005, Ottawa advised it was pulling the plug on passive investment schemes, and was working on procedures to cut-off applications. Other Atlantic provinces were running similar programs, and they joined Nova Scotia in lobbying against the change.
MacDonald wrote federal minister Joe Volpe in October 2005 urging him to allow big mentorship fees to continue. He said it was “a challenge” to find companies willing to host nominees at existing rates.
Ottawa never made the regulatory change. The federal Liberals lost a confidence vote in November 2005, and were replaced by a new Conservative government in January 2006.
The public accounts committee will hear testimony from immigration officials Nov. 28 on the failure of the mentorship program Nov. 28. Auditor General Jacques Lapointe is also conducting an investigation.
Last 5 most recent Nova Scotia immigration mentorship program articles:
Wife pushed into mentorship: husband View comments51 29/11/07 8:20 AM
Bureaucrats, not politicians, behind secret immigration contract 28/11/07 1:48 PM
Mentorship mess hurts Nova Scotia's ability to attract immigrants: report View comments19 28/11/07 6:52 AM
N.S. committee to release documents on controversial immigration program 21/11/07 2:09 PM
Excuses don't hold up: Steele View comments1 17/11/07 1:35 PM
(view all coverage)