It's Time To Expose Another Provincial Nominee Scandal


Dunstan Saint
(This is a pen name for a PEI researcher who has worked extensively on PEI’s Provincial Nominee programme. We have given him this name.)

I can’t remember ever seeing such a misleading explanation for what the PEI government is actually doing with immigration – and “why” they are doing it – than what the Minister of Workforce and Advanced Learning, Hon. Sonny Gallant, gave to Kerry Campbell during a Compass Interview in August of last year.

I’m currently in the process of investigating the PNP program – more precisely, the revamped version of the PNP which began roughly around 2010, after the Federal government changed the regulations shutting down the previous PNP program – and I’m not yet ready to present a comprehensive analysis; but after hearing what Minister Gallant said publicly, I feel compelled to share some of my concerns about the provincial government’s “new” rural immigration strategy immediately.

In truth, the PNP program is not changing in any substantial way at all, and the promise of more immigrants settling in rural PEI is completely bogus. The MacLauchlan government is certainly not playing the “rural card” to revitalize rural PEI – the PNP is incapable of doing that, given it’s current structure and limitations. In order to effect positive change in rural PEI using immigration, the government would need to abandon its deeply-flawed strategy of luring wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs to “buy” Island businesses, and negotiate a completely new PNP agreement with the federal government with new immigration programs designed to bring different classes of immigrants, from different countries, etc. which the government has absolutely no intention of doing.

Gallant’s response to Kerry’s excellent question about why the government is not transitioning more temporary workers to Permanent Resident status through the PNP program was disingenuous and very misleading: there has never been an interest with any PEI government – Conservative or Liberal – to focus on bringing either skilled or unskilled workers to PEI since the time the PNP began nearly two decades ago. In fact, the focus has never been on bringing “immigrants” here who plan to stay….it’s always been on bringing in money, not people.

In order for the PEI government to continue to collect PNP application fees from immigrant entrepreneurs ($10,000 per applicant) and continue to pocket $200,000 security deposits from immigrant entrepreneurs who are really only interested in buying a Permanent Residency Card into Canada – not living in PEI – the provincial government has had to encourage Islanders to sell their businesses. The government has even set up a matching “tool” that operates like a Real Estate page on their PNP website, where local business “sellers” and immigrant “buyers” can meet.

And there is no shortage of Chinese entrepreneurs who are eager and wealthy enough to happily forfeit $200,000 to the PEI government as part of the cost of getting that permanent residency card – immigrants who are also willing to pay exorbitant prices for Island businesses, far above market value, just so they can tick off a box on the PNP application form to meet the most important requirement for PNP nomination.

The previous PNP scandal was all about the provincial government pretending that wealthy foreigners from mainly China, Taiwan and South Korea were becoming “entrepreneurs” in PEI when, in fact, the vast majority didn’t even know what Island companies they were investing in….they were purely “passive” investors, and most of them had no intention of ever residing in PEI. That scheme resulted in the provincial government accruing millions in administration fees and “failed deposits,” and funneling hundreds of millions to lawyers, accountants and only those Island business owners they personally invited to apply for “PNP immigration units”. There are countless ways the government can ensure that only immigrants wanting to actually live here are “nominated” under the PNP, but such measures have never been put into place, which makes it abundantly clear that immigrant “retention” has never been a goal of PEI’s immigration policy, despite frequent claims that efforts were underway to “increase retention of immigrants.” The sad fact is that government nominates people who won’t stay so it can keep their deposits.

When the Federal government changed the terms of the PNP agreement around 2009, making the “purchase” of a business (or starting a new business) an essential requirement for provincial nomination of immigrant entrepreneurs, the PEI government – with its well established addiction to an easy and lucrative revenue stream – immediately began pushing the sale of Island businesses, regardless of whether those sales were good for the economy, or contributed positively to the social and cultural life of PEI. And we really don’t have a clear picture of what’s happened on that front over the past few years – there’s simply no way to map the phenomenal changes that have taken place in the Island business community.

However, my research has revealed an alarming trend: while there was apparently only 14 businesses “purchased” in the 2012-13 fiscal year by PNP Immigrant Entrepreneurs, there has been a steady increase in the rate of purchased Island businesses since then, with a whopping 148 Island businesses having been purchased in the first three months of 2017 alone!

What were those 148 businesses? Your guess is as good as mine. But shouldn’t we know? Shouldn’t all Islanders have access to that information? And now we’re hearing stories of businesses that were once vibrant with many employees being more or less “shuttered up,” existing as “businesses” in name only; or of entire clusters of businesses (such as tourism businesses in Cavendish) being acquired by Immigrant Entrepreneurs. But who and where are these new owners? PEI regulations (unlike some other provinces) don’t require any directors of Island businesses to reside in Canada, so the new owners may not even live in PEI or Canada.

There’s also talk of Chinese entrepreneurs buying businesses, then selling those same businesses to other Chinese entrepreneurs once they get their Permanent Resident Cards, so the same “businesses” can, in effect, facilitate the entry of many entrepreneurs, while doing nothing to bolster the Island economy. If that is indeed happening, it would be a clear violation of the “spirit” of the PNP agreement with the federal government, and perhaps even the “letter” of the legal terms and conditions. To be honest, we – the electorate – don’t have a clue what’s going on with PEI immigration. Despite Wade’s promise of being “open and transparent” there’s a shroud of secrecy hanging over the entire PNP program.

Something I do know, however – having been deeply involved in immigration and settlement of immigrants and refugees for many years – is that the current plan to “move” the PNP program into Rural PEI is very bad news….and I sincerely suspect it’s a complete scam.

Why is the PEI government announcing this initiative now? Obviously because it creates a positive story by giving the impression that the government is finally taking action to do more to revitalize rural PEI. But I suspect the real reason is to justify enlisting new PNP immigration agents familiar with rural PEI to facilitate the ongoing sale of more Island businesses so the PNP money train will keep chugging along. Minister Gallant said as much in his CBC interview: “These agents will have a knowledge of rural PEI, what exists out there, if there are businesses for sale, what labour shortages there is (sic), and they’ll try to get some skilled workers or business people to take over businesses, or start new businesses in rural PEI.”

Due to a complete lack of government transparency, it’s impossible to know what the real motives are for this recent immigration announcement promising to “settle” more immigrants in rural PEI using the PNP program. If the PEI government was serious about bringing appropriate immigrants and refugees to live in rural PEI; immigrants who are able to fill labour-market gaps and contribute to the rural economy of PEI for many years to come, then it would most definitely NOT be enlisting new agents skilled at identifying rural business owners who they can persuade to sell out to Chinese entrepreneurs!

Islanders need to demand answers that will provide the information needed to fully expose the PNP scandal that is secretly unfolding on our fair Isle before it’s too late! Will we once again have to wait for the Globe and Mail to do an exposé, as was the case with the previous PNP scandal, to discover the truth? And WHY are our political opposition leaders (Peter Bevan-Baker, Jamie Fox, and Mike Redmond) not screaming from the housetops about this PNP scandal? And perhaps even more importantly, why are the two contenders for the leadership of the PC party (Brad Trivers and James Aylward) not demanding information and answers from the government about the PNP? Will it take a rogue late entrant to the PC leadership race to put this crucial issue on the public agenda?

I’ll have more to release about the PNP program in the Fall, but for the time being, here’s a couple of things to ponder: (1) the revenue that the province has raked in from administration fees and failed deposits with the PNP by facilitating the sale of Island businesses to the super-rich in China for the 6 year period from 2010 – 2016 was over $85 million; (2) although the total amount of administration fees has been increasing significantly since Wade MacLauchlan became Premier – thereby signifying many more entrepreneurs than skilled workers coming through the PNP – the total amount of “failed deposits” being reported has dropped significantly during the same time period. How is that possible? There is no reason to believe that the retention rate of PNP immigrants from China has changed significantly, which strongly suggests that the provincial government is simply not reporting all the failed deposits… has the government “extended” the period for declaring defaults, thereby circumventing legal requirements to report them? If only we had opposition members; political party leaders (and contenders); and media personnel willing to ask these questions and investigate these critically-important issues? If only!