Questions about how Provincial Nominee Program intermediaries were chosen and how much money they make from business immigrants who come to P.E.I. were posed to government Thursday in question period. But the debate quickly became an exercise in political finger-pointing, with both the Liberals and Tories revealing the party affiliations of many of the PNP intermediaries.
The province recently award new contracts to 12 intermediaries, also known as agents, whose job it is to identify and attract potential immigrants to P.E.I. and help them apply to the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP). These companies were chosen as a result of a request for proposals (RFP) issued in July looking for new applicants.
The RFP said it was looking for “up to 10” new intermediary companies, yet the province ultimately appointed 12.
Opposition Leader James Aylward asked Economic Development Minister Heath MacDonald how this happened.
“We did an evaluation, there were 10 that came in and two more that were extremely close to the 18 total (applications) and it was a recommendation from our staff to go with 12,” MacDonald replied.
But Aylward pressed MacDonald for more detail, asking if, perhaps, it was a political connection to the Liberal party that allowed for more applicants to be approved as intermediaries.
Last month, The Guardian reported that one of the six new intermediaries approved for the PNP – Western Immigration Opportunities Inc. – was not incorporated at the time it was appointed and that one of its shareholders is Neil Handrahan, who is currently the treasurer of the Liberal party of P.E.I.
But MacDonald had a list ready at his desk in the legislature of the political connections of some of the intermediary firms to the P.E.I. Conservative party.
“The honourable member (Aylward) should be very, very well aware of who the intermediaries are, including his chairperson for his election campaign in his bid to become leader,” MacDonald said.
“I have the list right here and I can read them all off… there’s the former president of the Tory party, there’s the former interim president of the Tory party, there’s a former treasurer of the Tory party, there’s a well-connected individual, there’s a real well-connected lawyer… so if the honourable member wants to talk about their personal business he should contact his party members.”
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Opposition MLA Brad Trivers says the minister’s comments was only emphasize the fact that political connections are a concern within the PNP, pointing to the Liberal party affiliations of intermediaries, including a former leader of the Liberal party, a neighbour and “dog sitter” of the premier.
“When it comes to business, this government has a track record of trying to pick winners or losers, and a poor one at that,” he said.
He questioned why intermediaries have to be approved by government at all.
“It seems to me that if a firm has the capabilities to be an intermediary, they’ve got a great track record, they’ve proven themselves, they should be allowed to participate in the PNP,” Trivers said.
He further noted these firms stand to make millions from this program and asked for details of how much each business immigrant nominee or family must pay to these firms to come to P.E.I.
MacDonald did not directly answer any of these questions, but rather emphasized the improvements government has made to the PNP and the efforts underway to recruit business immigrants to rural P.E.I.
After question period, MacDonald refused to do an interview with media on PNP, citing a judicial review that has been filed in the P.E.I. Supreme Court.
H.P. Consultants Inc. is alleging the recent re-appointment process for PNP intermediaries was “unlawful” and favoured companies with political and personal ties to government.
In a statement to media, a spokeswoman for the premier’s office said the rates charged for the PNP are decided between the intermediary and the immigrant. The maximum fee can allowed to charge per applicant is $50,000.