PNP: Lost opportunity for Islanders

Governments failed to create enough sustainable partnerships with people who chose P.E.I.

BY JOE BYRNE

The MacLauchlan government shut down the entrepreneurship stream of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) the same way it was managed – no consultation, no deliberation, just arbitrary decision-making.

Appropriate design of this federal initiative could benefit both immigrants and Islanders.

PNP was abused by backroom Liberals and Conservatives who conspired to take what they considered as “free money” for personal enrichment. It is appalling that these decisions were co-ordinated out of the Premier’s Office.

This abuse is not the whole story though. Some of the funds were used to invest and develop Island businesses, keeping some businesses afloat, and allowing them to become profitable. With all the focus on the documented abuse, we can lose sight of both the victims of abuse and potential program benefits that did not happen.

Although the program was revamped in 2009, the approach of government remained the same: get wealthy newcomers to bring money. Although government did provide more support for newcomers, it failed to create enough sustainable partnerships with people who chose P.E.I. The MacLauchlan government followed the path of its predecessors using the program simply as a cash cow.

This latest decision unfairly places blame for program faults on newcomers, when in reality it was administrative bungling and insider interests that corrupted PNP. Provincial governments’ failure, including that of MacLauchlan, with lack of transparency and accountability, is at the root of the immense lost opportunity for Islanders, both new and resident.

Having worked with so many newcomers over the past 30 years, I have witnessed excitement, hope and creativity of many and I have seen the frustration and anxiety of having to invest in a business, any business, or risk losing a lot of money. It is not the newcomers’ fault that they were forced into retail and restaurants – these are the economic activities most quickly able to meet provincial government requirements.

If the provincial government had worked with newcomer entrepreneurs, we could have seen pooled resources invested in completely new initiatives such as sustainable energy strategy like financing domestic solar energy. Or newcomers could create partnerships with the provincial and municipal governments to invest in building public owned housing.

The fact is that it is the responsibility, and it always has been, of government to oversee the Provincial Nominee Program.

Governments, past and present, have consistently failed to provide PNP with oversight, transparency and accountability, and they have also failed the creativity test.

Thankfully, plenty of people continue to choose the Island, but we have to make the investments more flexible and provide new opportunities to meet public policy goals. Broad consultation with service providers, communities, newcomers and other partners would show a better way forward for our province. Change is always acceptable to make things better, but cancelling the PNP without consultation makes positive change more elusive.