©BRIAN MCINNIS/THE GUARDIAN
Despite lingering controversy about past sins, the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) continues to be an important economic generator for Prince Edward Island. The overall program itself is a good one. There was deserved criticism for past indiscretions but the greed of a few should not condemn a program that assisted the many. Hundreds and hundreds of Island businesses legitimately benefitted from PNP. It poured hundreds of millions into the Island economy at a time when it was sorely needed.
The federal-provincial program underwent reforms and tighter controls since the 2007 orgy which ensnared the former P.E.I. Liberal government, various companies and individuals. P.E.I.’s PNP has been the subject of numerous investigations in the past, including by the auditor general and the RCMP. No charges have ever been laid.
While critics remain obsessed with what happened some nine years ago, PNP was relaunched and has quietly gone about its business. It continues to attract immigrants willing to invest in this province in return for fast-tracking their visa applications to become Canadian citizens. And in these current economic times, PNP is more important than ever to attract new immigrants, investment and population growth.
So one wonders why the province has decided to tinker with some key elements of the program. The province has doubled the required deposit or down payment to $200,000. The money is held in escrow by a provincial Crown corporation and the province retains all interest accrued. Should the immigrant fail to meet criteria, the province then gets to keep the entire amount.
So one could conclude that the deposit was increased as a money-grab by the province. It also places an extra hardship on an immigrant who might have cobbled together all available resources to make that original $100,000 deposit to come to P.E.I.
The province argues that deposits were increased to ensure the best possible applicants come to P.E.I. through this program. So only the richest immigrants need apply; or more money means a better immigrant? One could argue that the more money an immigrant has when arriving here, the less importance is placed on a deposit. It would logically follow that there is a greater likelihood that an immigrant is willingly take the financial hit as the cost of getting a Canadian passport and then leaving P.E.I. for elsewhere in Canada as soon as possible.
The province fails to grasp that an immigrant is far more valuable remaining in the province and investing and building a business here over the long term, than opting for a quick cash grab of $200,000.
Opposition Leader Jamie Fox made an excellent point when he noted the province is trying to encourage immigrants to come and invest in our industries and small businesses yet limits the ability of newcomers to have the capital to develop a business. It might convince immigrants on the financial bubble to look at other provinces.
P.E.I. has pocketed millions in defaulted PNP deposits in past years and targeting immigrants might be an attempt to pocket even more.
Free pass at high price
The Prince Edward Island national park attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to enjoy the beaches, attractions and historical sites. Our ecologically fragile park is among the smallest in Canada but also among the busiest.
Admission policies developed by Prime Minster Justin Trudeau mean the park will face a surge in visitors next year with heavy pressure on facilities and infrastructure. The mandate letter issued by Mr. Trudeau states: "Make admission for all visitors to National Parks free in 2017, the 150th anniversary of Confederation."
Free admittance will mean that more Islanders and visitors alike will be flocking to our national park in 2017. A P.E.I. National Park seasonal pass, purchased in 2016, will be valid for 24 months from the date of purchase.
Park staff and officials here should take heed and start developing plans now on how to deal with increased parking, concessions, washrooms, safety and other pressures expected throughout 2017.
This invitation to all Canadians to enjoy national parks during our national sesquicentennial will still come at a high price.