Immigration lawsuit settled
Cornwallis Financial to get $1 million, province at least $7.5 million from nominee program fees
By DAVID JACKSON Provincial Reporter
Sat. Apr 25 – 1:31 PM
The MacDonald government has settled a messy dispute over a troubled immigration program as election speculation heats up.
Immigration Minister Len Goucher announced Friday that the Cornwallis Financial Corp.s lawsuit against the province, and the provinces counterclaim, have been settled, with the province getting at least $7.5 million and Cornwallis $1 million.
All of the money will come from fees paid by immigrants or from interest earned on those fees, not from taxpayers, Mr. Goucher said.
The minister was upbeat when delivering the news to a media scrum at the Office of Immigration in Halifax.
“This is absolutely wonderful,” he said.
“Im happy right now for the people in the department, Im happy for the people in the province, and Im especially happy for the immigrants in the province.”
Cornwallis launched four lawsuits against the province in 2006. In June of that year, the government had ended its contract with Cornwallis to deliver an immigrant nominee program. The lawsuits were later combined into one.
Cornwallis president Stephen Lockyer didnt want to say much Friday about the settlement.
“I was happy to go down and pick up my cheque for a million bucks, so Im going to have a good weekend,” he said in a telephone interview.
The RCMP are still looking at aspects of the immigrant nominee program. Auditor General Jacques Lapointe referred five files to the Mounties while reviewing the program last summer and into the fall. He also gave them information on matters that concerned him but were outside the scope of his audit.
In December 2002, the Hamm government gave Cornwallis an untendered contract to handle the economic stream of the immigrant nominee program.
Bureaucrats inadvertently failed to follow a cabinet directive to tender the contract, the legislatures public accounts committee heard in November 2007.
Under the program, immigrants each paid a fee of $130,500, later $130,000, to be fast-tracked into Canada. They were supposed to get a six-month position in middle management with a Nova Scotia company to learn the ropes of doing business in the province.
The immigrant was to be paid at least $20,000 for at least six months of work, and the company could get up to $80,000 from the program. The rest of the immigrants fees went to agents, lawyers, Cornwallis or the province.
The government took over the program on July 1, 2006. Most problems with the program didnt become public until the fall of 2007 or later. In October 2007, the province offered $100,000 refunds to immigrants who hadnt done their mentorships or had signed contracts to do them.
After that, a list of issues came to light professionals doing menial work, businesses collecting fees without fulfilling the mentorship aspect of the agreement, and the province having little oversight over Cornwallis or the program. Mr. Lapointe provided harsh assessments of the program in two reports last year.
Last fall, the province extended the refund offer to immigrants who had completed their work placements and stayed in the province. The money came from fees that other immigrants had forfeited.
Mr. Goucher said theres nothing to read into the timing of the settlement. He said Cornwallis approached the province in December about settling the lawsuit, and both parties signed off on the deal Friday morning.
Mr. Lockyer wouldnt confirm that his company made the first move.
“This stuff is so, you know, youre back and forth, and youre back and forth, and back and forth, so I just dont want to make any more comment,” he said.
Many political observers are expecting a spring election, and the three main parties are getting ready just in case. MLAs head back to the legislature on Thursday, and the minority Tory government could fall if the budget doesnt pass or if a change to the Provincial Finance Act fails.
Premier Rodney MacDonald has also suggested he may call an election if it looks like theres no opposition support for his budget.
Opposition critics said Friday theres no doubt the government would have wanted to get the lawsuit out of the way before going to the polls.
“The government is trying to line up all of its ducks with the election coming up,” said NDP immigration critic Leonard Preyra. “They dont want to have this sordid saga hanging over their heads in the middle of an election.”
Liberal critic Diana Whalen said the government is trying to tie up some loose ends before a campaign. But just because the lawsuit is settled, theres still plenty to remember about how the government mishandled the immigrant nominee program, she said.
“I think we shouldnt forget how indecisive they were from the start, even when this blew up in their face,” she said. “There was a complete lack of action, months of dragging their heels.”
Immigrant Elvin Reyes, a native of the Philippines, was pleased to hear about the settlement.
“Thats good, at least thats out of the way,” he said Friday from the Manila Pastry Co., the Bedford Highway business he owns.
“Basically, its good for the province. That money can be put to good use, like put it in a hospital. I dont think the nominees, the immigrants whose money earned interest, I dont think theyll have any interest in that amount.”
Mr. Reyes said he will not be asking for any of the money.
“Id rather have the province have it and return it to the taxpayers, to the residents, in improved health facilities or something like that. . . . Or it would be nice if the government, using that money since its interest from immigrants money, set up a program or something to help new immigrants coming into the province.”
Cornwalliss four lawsuits were for defamation, breach of contract, and two for financial compensation. The settlement doesnt award any damages to the company.
Cornwalliss $1 million comes from a portion of the $130,000 fees that immigrants pay as part of the program. The firm was due $10,000 of each $130,000.
Elizabeth Mills, the provinces deputy immigration director, said the government had been paying Cornwallis the $10,000 as each immigrant landed but is now paying out $1 million in a lump sum, even though some 135 immigrants arent here yet.
The province is keeping the interest earned on the trust holding the fees. That interest now totals $7.5 million, and there is still more than $50 million in the trust, Mr. Goucher said.
He said itll likely be a couple of years before the program winds up and the province takes the money. It would then use the money for immigration programs, he said.
With Sherri Borden Colley,