A consultant who worked with the New Brunswick government's troubled immigrant investor program a decade ago is back in the province and back in business.
Pierre Rouleau is running a new company called Prexport Canada that he says will help Chinese investors identify New Brunswick businesses they can buy.
Rouleau said the potential investors are not looking to immigrate to the province, though he said he's urging government officials to make policy changes that he said would bring more wealthy immigrants here.
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"I'm talking with them," Rouleau said. "Some leaders of the government, the Liberal government, are interested in knowing a little bit more about, 'What is it, Pierre, that you would have done?' or 'What is it that should done? … They are on a learning path."
The Provincial Nominee Program, which gives provinces the power to sponsor and fast-track immigration applications for federal approval, could be improved, he said.
"I don't want to change it all but to modify it in a way that will allow more investment," Rouleau said. "More immigration and more investment."
Dropping the requirement for fluency in English or French would allow the creation of a VIP program for older, wealthier immigrants, according to Rouleau.
'New Brunswick needs investment today. Yesterday.' - Pierre Rouleau
He said he was in touch with Premier Brian Gallant's office to discuss the ideas.
"It's not with the premier, but the premier has an office with 15 people," he said.
"We talk, we share our opinion. … I'm confident they'll come to the same conclusion as me. They did in the past."
But a spokesperson for Gallant said the only contact Rouleau has had with the office was a call to complain he wasn't chosen in a tender for new "immigration agents" to market the Provincial Nominee Program.
A spokesperson for the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour, which oversees immigration programs, said no one there was aware of Rouleau's company.
'The one partner'
A decade ago, Rouleau worked for KBL Group, a China-based company that set up shop in New Brunswick to help potential immigrants navigate the province's Provincial Nominee Program for entrepreneurs.
The program allowed the government to sponsor potential immigrants who formed partnerships with local entrepreneurs to invest in existing New Brunswick businesses. They had to pay a $40,000 fee to KBL and a $60,000 deposit.
The province wanted to boost the province's stagnant population and stimulate business growth.
New Brunswick government officials who hosted immigrant recruitment events in China told applicants KBL was "the one partner … we deal with." Rouleau also paid for the mayors of Saint John and Fredericton to travel to China to promote the company.
But the program didn't hit its targets.
Rouleau said he "supported and encouraged" about 500 immigrant families but told CBC News in 2007 only 70 of them had actually settled in New Brunswick, and half of them left.
Problems led to lawsuits
At least two Chinese immigrants who used the program to settle in Saint John sued Rouleau and KBL after their agreements with local businesses soured.
One said the English version of the contract was different from one he'd signed in Mandarin. Another said she was never able to meet with her supposed local business partner.
Rouleau said now that out of 800 immigrant investors who used the New Brunswick program, "two of them were not happy," he said. In both cases, he said, "they abandoned the lawsuits."
Rod Gillis, a Saint John lawyer who represented the two immigrants, said he filed 11 lawsuits about the Provincial Nominee Program, though not all of them involved Rouleau. Gillis said six of the 11 were settled with the immigrants getting their money back.
He said one case went to trial, but Rouleau and KBL were not defendants in that case. The remaining cases never went ahead. Gillis wouldn't provide more details.
Program shut down
The province shut down the program in 2011 after Auditor-General Kim Macpherson said there was no way to track whether immigrants stayed in New Brunswick and were entitled to get their $60,000 deposits back. Those flaws were attributed to the government, not KBL.
The audit said some immigrants were using the New Brunswick program as a quick way to immigrate to Canada and then move to another part the country.
The province began requiring additional deposits to try to ensure more of them stayed.
Rouleau said he left KBL in 2013 when the company had to cut costs after New Brunswick scaled back its program.
He estimated about 60 per cent of the Chinese immigrant investors he brought to New Brunswick left to live elsewhere in Canada.
Rouleau said the clients with his new company, Prexport, are "not interested at all" in immigrating to Canada. Some of his other clients looking to invest here are Chinese immigrants who have settled in other provinces, he said.
He is running advertising in provincial newspapers looking for people who want to retire from running their businesses and who would be interested in selling them.
In other provinces, Rouleau still works with potential immigrant entrepreneurs. He said he's not in that line of work here because the process "takes too much time."
He would like to see New Brunswick adopt the same system as Nova Scotia, which fast-tracks immigrant investors to get them what he calls a temporary "working visa" in about six months.
The working visa used in other provinces can be revoked if the immigrant moves to another province before they get permanent-resident status, Rouleau said.
For New Brunswick to not adopt that system is "a major mistake from my point of view."
New Brunswick's current system can take three years, he said.
"It's not really what New Brunswick needs. New Brunswick doesn't need investment in three years. New Brunswick needs investment today. Yesterday."