It’s the gift that keeps on giving for the opposition in the P.E.I. legislature. The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) has been enmeshed in problems since 2007 when the Liberals swept to power, threw open the doors and loosened the rules for immigrants seeking permanent residency in this province.
Previous pratfalls should have made the current government extremely cautious and extra careful. A newly-launched PNP process should have bent over backwards to be transparent and accountable.
But recent media revelations suggest otherwise. Investigative Canadian Press stories last week reveal continuing problems with PNP, especially retaining immigrants and abuses involving some students working in immigrant businesses.
Widespread defaults have been a fiscal windfall for the provincial treasury and explain how the province has been able to balance its budget despite cost overruns in health and education, and other departments. It all suggests that while the province welcomes the increase in population and new entrepreneurs, it also welcomes the extra cash as well.
It’s hard to rebut Opposition allegations that PNP is currently being used as a cash cow to cover poor fiscal management by this government, when two-thirds of program nominees are simply defaulting on their deposits, which has handed the province $23 million in revenues over the last two years.
The Opposition is calling for a ‘full scale, top-to-bottom review’ of PNP. It might prove a valuable process to make the program work better and produce stronger results for both newcomers and province. A constructive review would be beneficial as long as it doesn’t become a witch-hunt looking for problems from the past. It’s time to move forward and improve PNP and ensure it becomes an even more valuable support for economic and population growth.
Other provinces took steps to correct abuses and improve their PNP programs and certainly more can be done here. For example, several members of the Chinese community say the program could be more successful if government offered additional supports. Let’s consult more and listen to those suggestions.
PNP is too important to this province to fail. The program plays a key role in bringing newcomers and immigrants to P.E.I. We need the increased population – P.E.I. is the only Atlantic province seeing an increase in population numbers - and the economic spinoffs it brings.
Ask any P.E.I. business if they think PNP is a benefit – auto sales, real estate and construction and other sectors are all booming - and the answer will be yes.
But there must be checks and balances to ensure the program works and that immigrants are supported and protected. A retention strategy should be enhanced. PNP agents must recruit immigrants who actually want to come here, work here and stay here, and not use the province as a springboard to go elsewhere in a year or two.
Yes, there were failures but there are also many success stories. Government must show PNP nominees that it is more concerned about them than their money. As a province, we won’t survive without maintaining or increasing our population. We need newcomers more than they need us.