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Prince Edward Island’s controversial immigrant investor program was rife with abuse and was run by a close personal friend of the premier even after he was shuffled to a different government agency, according to a former top bureaucrat in the Robert Ghiz government.
Allan Rankin served as clerk of Executive Council under Ghiz from 2007 to 2009.
Before that, he was a heavyweight in the Liberal administrations of both Joe Ghiz and Catherine Callbeck and also worked in Ottawa as a parliamentary assistant.
In his recent column in The Eastern Graphic newspaper, Rankin shared his thoughts about P.E.I.’s failed Internet gambling initiative, stating his belief the Ghiz government did not learn from its mistakes with the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP).
He details what he knew of this program, which has been mired in controversy since 2008.
Rankin alleges the former Progressive Conservative government abused the program before the Liberals took office, investing immigrant monies into local businesses that didn’t actually exist.
The Liberal government then ramped up the program just before Ottawa shut it down in 2008.
In his column, Rankin says he was told by a colleague that immigrant investments were allegedly being “peddled as an incentive for the purchase of Liberal fundraising tickets.”
Says Rankin: “PNP operated in the shadows, its benefits flowing only to those on a select and much guarded list.”
The auditor general (AG) investigated the PNP in 2009 and found multiple instances where program officials broke rules.
The AG also found some deputy ministers, MLAs and their family members received money through this program.
The AG did not call this an outright conflict of interest, but did call on government to review and strengthen its conflict of interest guidelines.
Rankin says he did raise concern about conflict of interest regarding the deputy in charge of the PNP, Brooke MacMillan.
MacMillan and his wife received immigrant investment from the PNP directly after he was shuffled to the P.E.I. Liquor Control Commission in August 2008.
But, Rankin now alleges that although MacMillan was no longer deputy minister in charge of PNP, MacMillan continued to manage the PNP for a further five weeks as CEO of the Liquor Commission during the time he received PNP money.
Rankin says he took this to Premier Robert Ghiz in October 2008.
Initially, he was directed to investigate.
But later this task was reassigned to then-deputy treasurer, the late Paul Jelley.
That investigation cleared MacMillan.
Rankin says he was replaced as clerk of Executive Council shortly thereafter, tying his reassignment to whistleblowing against MacMillan, “a close personal friend of the premier (who) got to keep his job.”
He also notes a report he delivered just before his departure proposing a new Public Service Code of Conduct and Ethics Management was quietly shelved.
Speaking to The Guardian Thursday, Rankin says he wrote his column after learning about the Ghiz government’s failed e-gaming proposal, which transpired a few years after PNP.
He believes if some of the ethics systems he proposed had been implemented, the e-gaming controversy may never have happened.
“As I said in my column, (the PNP) was certainly a clandestine operation. It was something that not many people were in on and knew about,” he said.
“I’m writing about in what I believe to be the public interest… I think the public should know about it.”
A statement from Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s office noted the Provincial Nominee Program has been “thoroughly reviewed and audited in the past,” including by the auditor general, the RCMP and the Canadian Border Service Agency.
Premier Wade MacLauchlan issued this statement in response to Allan Rankin’s comments:
“Premier MacLauchlan has committed to an enhanced emphasis on openness and transparency within government. This includes the announcement of new conflict of interest requirements for deputy ministers and senior political advisors, as well as enhanced disclosure requirements for expenses. Government has committed to consider additional measures to increase transparency and accountability and to extending post-employment restrictions to senior officials.”