I really appreciate David Weale’s courage in publicly raising a number of sensitive (but incredibly important and timely) questions about where the provincial government is still taking us with immigration. If you haven’t yet read his Guest Opinion entitled Immigration: the Elephant in the Room, which appeared in the March 25 edition of the Guardian, please take a few minutes and do so now.
After reading David’s article, I decided it was time for me to disclose some important information about PEI Immigration and the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) that I’ve been sitting on and have not previously made public. Why now? Because the need for a public consultation process that maps out a new road for PEI immigration is now urgent. We need a radical change in our immigration strategy before this government crosses a line beyond which we will – quite literally – lose the freedom to chose what kind of Island we will have in the future. Major and rapid changes are currently underway – which I believe more and more Islanders are gradually becoming aware of, but which our government never mentions – which are already giving shape to our Island for generations to come.
Such a public consultation process on immigration would need to be framed to accomplish two objectives: (1) in the interest of full disclosure, (a) fully inform Islanders about the exact nature of the current immigration program, including its objectives; (b) clarify the different “streams” through which immigrants can currently come to PEI under the PNP; (c) articulate the criteria upon which immigrant selection currently takes place under the PNP, etc., and (2) in the interest of democratic consultation (a) invite creative input from Islanders on what the objectives of our immigration strategy should be; (b) discover what types of immigration and settlement programs Islanders believe should be put in place on a go-forward basis; (c) determine what “streams” and programs are available under the Federal-Provincial Immigration Agreement to achieve those objectives; (d) articulate and come to a consensus on what criteria should be used to select immigrants and refugees; etc.
The sad fact is that successive PEI governments – both Conservative and Liberal – having discovered the existence of a “golden immigration goose” upon taking office – and have kept that goose securely locked away, hidden within the secret chambers of Island Immigrant Development Inc. (IIDI), under the watchful guard of senior civil servants, bureaucrats who happen to also be accountants (amazing with numbers; People?… not so much). Working diligently under the enchanted spell of the golden goose, staying busy feeding it and collecting its golden eggs, recent governments have shown absolutely no interest in either (1) truthfully disclosing what they’re really doing with immigration, or (2) engaging Islanders in a meaningful consultation process with the goal of developing a more appropriate immigration plan and immigrant settlement strategy for PEI.
Successive governments have focused almost exclusively on allowing wealthy investor-class immigrants to use PEI as a back door into Canada, happy to simply pocket their hefty “security deposits” in the process. This immigration plan has been ridiculously simple and exorbitantly profitable: because the provincial government gets to keep the deposits as long as the immigrants decide not to settle in PEI, those immigrants which the government suspects really don’t want to stay here but have lots of money are selected. For years, each immigrant has had to make a deposit of $25,000 guaranteeing they would stay in the province – plus another $20,000 guaranteeing they would learn English and achieve a certain language proficiency within a given length of time – which generated millions and millions of dollars for the province and soon became a chronic, fiscal addiction. And we’re talking a LOT of money: the amount of failed immigrant deposits kept by the province in 2012 alone boosted the provincial treasury by 18 million!
Government has always known that the vast majority of the immigrants they were nominating had no intention of staying in PEI. At one point, government was so confident it would be keeping investor-class deposits it didn’t even bother to set the money aside for the required time, but spent the money as soon as it was received, for things like (1) extending a revolving line of credit of $15 million to another Crown corporation; (2) helping to bank-roll the race track, which was experiencing losses at the time; and (3) purchasing a building that was then leased to the private sector. When the Auditor General got wind of what they were doing, they were forced to stop the practice.
It’s really sad to ponder the missed opportunities for PEI as a result of this inane and insane approach to immigration. We could have so easily advanced a truly sustainable, community-based development strategy within PEI over the last two decades, with the dedicated and enthusiastic help of thousands of skilled immigrants and refugees truly suitable to our culture, climate, industry and size under successive 5-year Federal-Provincial Immigration Agreements – such hand-picked immigrants and refugees would have brought tremendous vitality and growth to Island communities. What our government chose, rather, were immigrants whose only skill – at least as far as making a contribution to PEI – was to dump wads of cash in the pockets of the already-richest people living here on their way to Toronto or Vancouver! Oh, and they also provided a revenue stream for government with their deposits…they did that too, so my mistake, they did two things. Given the vast numbers of skilled people wanting to come to PEI, a thoughtful, targeted and successful immigration strategy would have been a cinch…. if – and boy is it a big “if” – not for government’s incredibly selfish, short-sighted approach!
Well it’s not yet too late to make a change, but we have to do so soon, because this craziness is still going on. Lawyers and accountants are still making millions from administrative fees, and virtually all the immigrants who are being selected for immigration to PEI are still wealthy immigrants from China capable of paying those deposits. Out of a total of at least 1316 PNP “landings”in PEI [there may have been more] in 2016, 975 were from China. How many will stay? That’s anyone’s guess. But if history is any indication, not very many at all, because PEI pocketed $5 million from failed PNP deposits in 2016 alone! Such a strategy is not only shameful and irresponsible, it makes us look like a province of stunned sheep content to let a few hungry wolves run the show….it’s a strategy with no vision and it’s hurting us big-time.
True, a few investor-class immigrants did fall in love with PEI after coming here to fulfill their mandatory 3-day visit, and chose to stay. And that’s actually wonderful. But such stories are largely accidental consequences of a bad immigration strategy, not evidence of a good one. We urgently need an Island-wide consultation process to come up with a strategic immigration and settlement plan, one which is consciously designed and democratically-chosen to realize a vibrant PEI future that we, the people, envision; not one that happens haphazardly as a consequence of the greed of a few people controlling our immigration levers. Thankfully, much of the ground-work for such a strategy – which can be immediately used to launch a meaningful consultation process – has already been done. I know this….because I did that work.
For ten consecutive years (2000 – 2010) I worked closely with both the Pat Binns and Robert Ghiz governments on immigrant & refugee settlement issues as the Executive Director of the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada (PEIANC). Many, many times I tried to convince both Conservative and Liberal politicians – and their senior civil servants – to abandon their obsession with big money and shift their seemingly-exclusive focus from “investor class” immigrants to (a) skilled workers; (b) graduating international students from UPEI and Holland College; (c) immigrants who already had family members settled in PEI (thereby fostering both family reunification and immigrant retention – because these immigrants would almost certainly stay here); and (d) more refugees (especially from countries and cultures [such as Spanish-speaking Colombians] where there is already a sizable community in PEI (so they would fit in and stay as well). Unfortunately, most of my efforts proved fruitless.
Perhaps just to placate me, I was several times told that government had finally seen the light and was ready to embark on a new people-focused strategy for immigration. I was also told that my particular insights and experience would be invaluable to government, and that they actually wanted me to develop the blueprints for their new approach. Specifically, I was offered several research and consulting contracts to (1) undertake comprehensive immigration and settlement research, and (2) propose new immigration and settlement strategies and programs with formal recommendations for government; all of which I did, believing that government was being sincere, and that my work would be taken seriously and used to initiate public consultations which would, in turn, lead to new plans, projects, and programs that would take PEI immigration in an entirely new and much more positive direction. It would finally be immigration with a focus on people, not just money.
I submitted a 114 page report in April, 2008 titled: “Toward a Comprehensive Immigration and Settlement Strategy for PEI,” which, sadly, continues to gather dust. Five years later, I completed another major study in 2013, filing a 122 page report titled: “An Analysis of Settlement Services and Programs in PEI – With Recommendations for a Revised Settlement Strategy.” Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to make either of these reports public. I was required to sign legal contracts that explicitly state under Section 18:
“Any and all information, knowledge or data made available to the Contractor as a result of this agreement shall be treated as confidential information. The Contractor will not directly or indirectly disclose or use it for purposes unrelated to the agreement at any time without first obtaining the written consent of IIDI [Island Investment Development Inc.] unless the information, knowledge or data is generally available to the public;”
…and perhaps more importantly, under Section 20:
“The Contractor relinquishes all rights to the Work Product created pursuant to this Agreement, including all rights, including moral rights otherwise accruing to the Contractor pursuant to the Copyright Act, R.S.C. 1985, C-42.”
That hurt….especially having to relinquish my “moral rights” under penalty of law! So although I can’t share with you the actual content of what I wrote in those reports, I can tell you that I did indeed write them..[to my knowledge, the PEI government has never mentioned that those studies were commissioned, never indicated to the Legislative Assembly that either of these reports existed, or shared them with the opposition; nor mentioned them in any government record that could be searched, thereby possibly revealing their existence and the fact that they are on file with the government. So no one outside government, including the media, has ever read them, or even knows they exist. Until now, I suppose].
If you want to read what’s in those two documents – including my forceful advance warning that the government stop violating the terms of the PNP agreement with their passive-immigrant investment scheme – a warning which they not only ignored, but used as a notification to rapidly speed up their efforts, after I (naively) informed them that I had learned from a colleague in the Federal government’s Immigration office that plans were in the works to close the PEI PNP Agreement loophole with amended federal regulations that would take about 7 months to process [Alas!….it was the next 7 months after I filed that report that the crazed panic took place within IIDI under Hon. Richard Brown, Brooke McMillan and Neil Stewart, with the frantic, assembly-line processing of thousands of Investor applications before the impending deadline shut passive-investment applications down for good; their waiving of the mandatory 3-day visit to PEI for applicants; their traveling to China to do in-country processing of applications, etc.]… well, I guess if you want to know any more you’ll have to ask the provincial government to give you copies of my reports.
If you do ask for them, and you’re told that they don’t know what you’re talking about, or that they can’t find any copies, ask them to give me (in writing) permission to share them with you…I still have the electronic files for both reports so I can easily email them to you with a click…..and, of course, with government’s permission.
I can also tell you that much of what is in those reports remains relevant and would greatly expedite a consultation process that could – and should – immediately give rise to the drafting and implementation of a new immigration plan and settlement strategy for PEI. I wasn’t being alarmist when I put the word “urgent” in the title of this article.
NOTE: If you go to the trouble of requesting one or both of the reports mentioned in this article, you may also be interested in two smaller reports I did under contract for the PEI government which I did not mention in the above article:
“Settlement Programs In PEI: Gaps in Services and Suggested Pilot Projects,” submitted on March 9, 2012; and,
“The Health of Refugees in PEI,” submitted on September 4, 2012