Saskatchewan

Brightenview asks Sask. government to reverse ban on megamall immigration applications

The developer of a megamall at the Global Transportation Hub, Brightenview Development International, says the Saskatchewan government should reverse its recent decision to withdraw support for immigration applications tied to the project. 

Developer says policy change "threatens and cripples" wholesale mall project

This is an image Brightenview has been using to promote the GTEC wholesale mall located at the GTH. (www.brightenvantage.com)

The developer of a megamall at the Global Transportation Hub, Brightenview Development International, says the Saskatchewan government should reverse its recent decision to withdraw support for immigration applications tied to the project. 

Brightenview's Global Trade and Exhibition Centre (GTEC) is an 80,000 square foot wholesale mall located at the government-owned logistics park west of Regina. Since it was announced in 2016, the company and its agents have sold the project as a turnkey business for Chinese nationals seeking immigration to Canada. 

Would-be immigrants are told that setting up a showroom in GTEC and selling Chinese products into the North American market could lead to permanent residency in Canada through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP). 

Since it was first announced, GTEC has enjoyed the support of the Saskatchewan government. Premier Brad Wall even took a trip to China in 2016 and spoke to investors at a meeting which promoted the project. 

But just last month, the government announced it had a change of heart. 

Minister Jeremy Harrison said that on November 6, after months of review, the province decided it would no longer support new immigration applications tied to GTEC. 

On May 4, 2017, then-Minister of the Economy Jeremy Harrison (left) attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Brightenview's new megmall at the GTH. He sat with the company's CEO Joe Zhou (centre) and VP of Government Relations Lorne Nystrom. (CBC)

An email from the Ministry of Immigration and Career Training explains why.

"The SINP has determined that this type of business model carries undue risk to the success of entrepreneurs and the SINP due to the reliance on the interest and investment of other immigrant entrepreneur businesses, and subsequent dependence on immigration program decisions at the provincial and federal level," the official wrote. 

To date, the Saskatchewan government has approved more than one hundred GTEC applications from foreign nationals. The province said its policy shift doesn't affect those people. It only applies to future applications.

Brightenview CEO Joe Zhou said this change is devastating.

"We invested tens of millions of dollars and years of hard work and sacrifices to advance GTEC project," he wrote in a post on Brightenview's website on Wednesday. "This threatens and cripples our ability to sustain the project."

He wondered what happened to the province's commitment to support GTEC. 

"We did not mislead or lie to the fact that this project and its business model and objectives have been supported by the government of Saskatchewan and recognized by SINP program and policy," he wrote. 

Decision 'not based on verified facts'

Zhou said so far, 71 business owners and their families have moved to the province as a result of GTEC. He said they've brought millions of investment dollars into Saskatchewan's economy. 

Brightenview said 71 Chinese business people have moved into Saskatchewan. Many of them have already set up their showrooms at GTEC. (GTEC)

"The first set of GTEC businesses have now blazed the path of establishing and operating their businesses at GTEC while fulfilling their business investment commitments made with the province to attain nomination for permanent resident status."

He believes the government is overlooking that.

"This policy change decision of the government was not based on verified facts and evidences in terms of risk assessment and economic impact. In fact, the government did not consult us for any economic data regarding investment, jobs or sales information regarding GTEC," Zhou wrote. 

Zhou wonders why GTEC is being singled out. 

"Would the risk appetite of SINP only fit to have restaurants and convenience stores establishments? How many restaurants and convenience stores are for sale and being flipped just for the sake of eligible business investment for the SINP applicants?" Zhou wondered. 

Brightenview, which is currently building a warehouse at the GTH, is no longer planning to buy 30 acres of land there, as previously announced. (Geoff Leo)

'Decision sends a wrong message'

Zhou said at a time when the Saskatchewan government is pursuing economic and population growth, this move is counterproductive. 

"This decision sends a wrong message to many potential investors around the world that looking at Saskatchewan investment opportunities. Is Saskatchewan a dependable place to do business? Who would want to invest and have the rules change partway through their investment project?" Zhou asked. 

The province defends the policy shift. 

"This policy change will help to promote increased connections with the local business community and help entrepreneurs obtain new business skills and expanded networks," an email from the ministry said. 

CBC asked the province if it would consider Brightenview's request to have another look. 

"At this time, there is no consideration being given to revisiting this policy change," an immigration official replied. 

About the Author

Geoff Leo

Senior Investigative Journalist

Geoff Leo has been a reporter for CBC News in Saskatchewan since 2001. His work as an investigative journalist and documentary producer has earned numerous national and regional awards.

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