Fiasco tarnishes province
By ROGER TAYLOR
The Chronicle Herald
Fri. Jan 25 – 6:37 AM
POLITICIANS and bureaucrats who were in charge of Nova Scotias notorious immigrant mentorship program forgot about an important facet in the whole fiasco: the human element.
Immigrants who qualified for the program probably never thought our government would be involved in such a flawed scheme that failed to help them fit in.
Foreign nationals who applied to come to Nova Scotia under the business mentor program, part of the “economic stream” of the provincial immigrant nominee program, paid $130,500 to become residents of Canada. The province dropped a $500 fee it was collecting in May 2006.
The private company that administered the program, Cornwallis Financial Corp., took $10,000 from the immigrants contribution; the international agent who recruited the immigrant received $20,000; and an “economic contribution” of $100,000 went to a Nova Scotia business mentor in exchange for providing a six-month apprenticeship to the immigrant.
In exchange, the immigrant was paid a minimum of $20,000 for his or her time.
Eventually, in June 2006, the mentorship program was shut down because it was apparent most of the immigrants were receiving less than they had bargained for. On the other side of the equation, the province is facing lawsuits from Cornwallis for cancelling the contract.
This week, Nova Scotians learned that the “economic stream” for immigrants was flawed from the beginning, starting even prior to the selection of Cornwallis as administrator.
A bureaucrat with the Economic Development Department admitted to a legislature committee that he was “not completely” truthful when he informed his deputy minister that a previous deputy thought the province should bypass the tendering process and award the contract to a single company.
In an Aug. 30, 2002 e-mail obtained by the public accounts committee, economic development director Chris Bryant wrote his deputy minister Bob MacKay suggesting that the previous deputy, Ron LEsperance, had endorsed the idea of negotiating with just one company without going to public tender.
Bryant says he wrote the e-mail to determine whether MacKay wanted to issue a request for proposals instead. MacKays response was to leave the decision in Bryants hands; subsequently, the province signed a contract with Cornwallis.
LEsperance, when called before the committee, denied endorsing “sole-sourcing” the administrators contract. That led Bryant to admit his reporting of what LEsperance had told him was “not completely” accurate. Instead, Bryant told the committee it was his “sense” that LEsperance agreed with the plan not to send the contract to tender.
Bryant later admitted to reporters that he was one of three civil servants disciplined for not following the April 2001 cabinet directive to tender the contract. That has some people wondering what kind of punishment was doled out and if it was enough. Could the bureaucratic performance in this immigration matter be an indication of the type of decision-making within the bureaucracy?
The current deputy minister of economic development, Paul Taylor, told the committee it was a mistake not to follow the cabinet directive, and he had plenty of excuses why it happened.
But this was not a “simple mistake” or “an oversight,” as Taylor describes. There was no government money involved in the scandal, but there was plenty of money belonging to the immigrants who failed to receive the promised work experience.
The immigrant participants thought the program would help them find a job in their field of expertise and adjust to living in a new land.
Not all Nova Scotia businesses involved in the program considered the immigrants as a source of revenue but others provided little benefit to them.
This is a major black eye for Nova Scotia as it tries to attract new immigrants to the province.
To help smooth over the problem the government offered rebates of $100,000 each to about 600 immigrants who were not yet in a mentorship contract. But to qualify for the refund, nominees had to be approved and have a permanent resident visa. They also had to prove that they and their dependents had lived in Nova Scotia for a minimum of 12 consecutive months within 18 months of landing in Canada and that they are still living here.
What about the people who became disenchanted with Nova Scotia and sought opportunity elsewhere?
I guess they lost their money and nobody here cares if they get even a portion of it back.
Roger Taylors column appears Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.