Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had some harsh words about the Ghiz government’s management of the Provincial Nominee Program Tuesday, calling it a ‘serious failure.’
Kenney was in Charlottetown Tuesday to hold roundtable meetings with businesses to discuss economic development and immigration issues, but sat down with The Guardian to discuss the controversial PNP.
He pulled no punches in his censure of the Island’s nominee program.
He said he fears P.E.I.’s mismanagement of the PNP may have compromised Canada’s reputation overseas when it comes to future immigration prospects for the country.
“This was a serious failure that was not just about the Island, it affected the integrity of our Canadian immigration system,” Kenney said in an interview with The Guardian.
“We haven’t seen anything that bad in any other part of the country, at least to my knowledge. And I hope it hasn’t caused any reputational damage for Canada or for the Island overseas for prospective immigrants.”
P.E.I.’s Provincial Nominee Program has been shrouded in controversy since the fall of 2008. The program offered permanent Canadian residency to immigrants who invested between $105,000 and $200,000 on P.E.I., some of which went into an Island company. It was established to encourage immigration to the province by attracting foreign nationals interested in taking an active role in local businesses.
Problems arose when the Ghiz government ramped the program up in the summer of 2008 and pushed through as many immigrant nominations as it could after the federal government announced it was changing its rules to disallow the way P.E.I. was investing immigrant monies.
The federal government required nominated immigrants to take an active, day-to-day role in the companies they invested in. P.E.I.’s program did not offer an active role to PNP investors.
Kenney said P.E.I.’s speedy nomination process in the summer of 2008 still leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
“To this day, that irks me. I think that was an expression of bad faith,” he said.
The PNP eventually made national headlines during the provincial election last fall, when Citizenship and Immigration called in the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to probe allegations of bribery and fraud it received regarding the P.E.I. PNP from three former public servants.
At that time, Premier Robert Ghiz accused the federal department of political interference during an election.
Kenney brought this up Tuesday, taking issue with Ghiz’s accusations and calling them ‘completely false.’ He said he wasn’t even made aware of the allegations until after department officials had forwarded them on to the Mounties.
“Our job as the government of Canada is to defend the integrity of the Canadian immigration system. We don’t play politics in this. We put the country’s interests first,” Kenney said.
“Most of these (immigrants) weren’t even planning to come here, most of them didn’t stay here. This was being promoted by crooked immigration consultants overseas as a fast and easy way to get into Canada and that affected the integrity of our national program. So to suggest that we should ignore that, I think that would be peculiar.”
Nonetheless, Kenney said he wants to put all these past issues behind him and try to ‘work positively’ with the P.E.I. government toward improving immigration and retention rates in the province.
“The province has decided to work with us in reframing a more credible program and we’re committed to making that work,” Kenney said.
“There’s no benefit in dwelling on mistakes that were made in the past. That’s a provincial issue and it’s for Islanders to decide how to consider that and respond to that.”