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For the second day in a row, the Opposition PC party continued to hammer Economic Development and Tourism Minister Chris Palmer about the state of the Island’s Provincial Nominee Program.
During Thursday’s question period, Ppposition Leader James Aylward began by raising the $18 million collected in PNP deposit forfeits over the last year.
“For years this government has treated immigration programs like an ATM machine,” Aylward said.
“Shouldn’t such a large amount of PNP deposit forfeits tell you something was amiss in how the program was being run?” Aylward asked Palmer.
Palmer responded that he had cancelled the entrepreneur stream of the PNP earlier in the fall.
"The entrepreneur stream was not performing to the satisfaction of Islanders,” Palmer said. “So I closed it.”
Palmer then faced a number of questions from Belfast-Murray River MLA Darlene Compton about an internal review completed of the PNP. The review was quietly released on the Island Investment Development Inc. website after the province announced it would be discontinuing the entrepreneur stream of the program.
Compton asked Palmer whether there had been consultation with immigrants who had arrived as PNP applicants, with housing groups and with the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers as part of the review.
Palmer responded that he had consulted with a number of municipalities.
“I went around the Island and visited a number of communities and we talked about our community endorsement piece of the program. They were all very happy with it," Palmer said.
Shortly after the cancellation of the entrepreneurship component of the PNP in September, the CAOs of Summerside and Montague told The Guardian they had received no advance warning of changes to the program.
Palmer then faced questions from Georgetown-St. Peters MLA Steven Myers about a trove of email communications he had obtained through a Freedom of Information request. The emails detailed communications about media talking points for Palmer about the PNP program in early May.
Communications staff instructed Canadian Press and CBC reporters several times that Palmer was unavailable for interviews in May of 2018. Instead, written statements were provided, as well as interviews with communications staff and the CEO of IIDI, Jamie Aiken.
"Why did they avoid letting you answer any single question and instead use the CEO of IIDI?" Myers asked.
Palmer became exasperated by the questions from Myers.
"In my whole time here, all I've been hearing is 'close the program,' ” Palmer said.
"It wasn't meeting the needs of Islanders, it wasn't meeting the expectations of this government, so I closed the program."