P.E.I. Opposition calls for 'top-to-bottom' review of PNP

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition is calling for a 'full-scale, top-to-bottom review' of P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program (PNP) after reports showing government continues to rake in millions of dollars in forfeited deposits from foreigners looking to come to Canada.

Province offering fast track to citizenship for 'a large chunk of money,' PCs maintain

Opposition MLAs Brad Trivers, left, and James Aylward, right, peppered government with questions Tuesday about P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program. (CBC)

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition is calling for a "full-scale, top-to-bottom review" of P.E.I.'s provincial nominee program (PNP) after reports showing government continues to rake in millions of dollars in forfeited deposits from potential immigrants looking to come to Canada.

Earlier this month, CBC reported the P.E.I. government brought in $18 million in revenue last year by withholding deposits paid by immigrant investors through the PNP because many did not open a business they were supposed to.

"The story that is actually emerging from this investigation is of climate where government is encouraging prospective immigrants that Prince Edward Island is a fast track to citizenship — if you don't mind parting with a large chunk of money along the way," said PC leader James Aylward during question period Tuesday.

Cash grab? Opposition asks

"More than half of nominees that were supposed to open a business never even attempted to meet this requirement," said PC MLA Brad Trivers.

"Of course, when nominess don't meet these goals, they forfeit $150,000 straight in the government coffers ... Is the PNP set up this way simply so it can be a cash grab for your government?"

"No," responded Minister of Economic Development Heath MacDonald. "I'd be the first one to say that we do not like keeping any of those allocations through those immigrants when they come here."

MacDonald pointed to the PNP as the driver of P.E.I. impressive population growth, leading the country at 1.7 per cent for the 12-month period ending July 1, 2017.

"I think if you look at the overall picture of immigration and what it's done to Prince Edward Island," said MacDonald. "If you look at retail sales, ... car sales, housing starts ... we're focused on growing the economy because when we grow the economy, we get to reinvest into health care, into schools and into social programs."

Lowest retention in the country

Government's continued use of a deposit system for its PNP is making it harder to retain the immigrants P.E.I. attracts, Aylward said, suggesting the program encourages applicants who "come through to fast-track and get the permanent residency and [then] leave."

A report this week from Statistics Canada shows retention of economic-class immigrants on P.E.I. has lagged far behind other provinces.

Statsistics Canada looked at income tax filings and found only 14 per cent of economic immigrants who landed on P.E.I. in 2010 were still in the province five years later. The next-lowest retention rate was in New Brunswick, which had a rate of 45 per cent.

The P.E.I. government pointed to a more recent retention figure from 2014 of 66 per cent, but that retention was over a one-year period.

Review is already done, says minister

In response to repeated requests for a PNP review from the Opposition, MacDonald said "approximately five or six months ago we did a full review of this program."

As part of that review, MacDonald pointed to a request for proposals the province issued for new immigration agents to work in the program, and to changes in the intake and application review process.

About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca