P.E.I.’s now-defunct immigrant partner program supposedly saw immigrants invest up to $200,000 in businesses in which they then played an active management role. University of King’s College students investigated and found partnerships that existed mostly on paper.
By King’s Investigative Workshop
The Beijing Restaurant on University Avenue in Charlottetown is a bright, open building filled with red and black calligraphy.
While cars speed by on Charlottetown’s busiest thoroughfare, Rita Zhao, her husband and their two children serve up dumplings, egg pancakes and shredded pork, just as any family restaurant in Beijing would.
Zhao runs the place on her own during the day. She rushes back and forth from the kitchen to the neat dining area out front — both cook and waiter. Her English is halting, but her smile is broad. In the evening, her two children come back from university and her husband from language class, and they help out.
Zhao’s family came to Canada, and Prince Edward Island, in 2010. They had made their business investment in P.E.I. before leaving China, and looked forward to a life in Canada.
Their ticket to Canada was the provincial nominee program, under which provinces can nominate foreign nationals for entry to Canada so they can fill labour market needs.
Their story stands as a perfect example of the kind of immigration envisaged by the program: immigrants settled successfully into the community, involved in a business, contributing to the Island’s future.
But there’s a problem with this picture.
The Beijing Restaurant isn’t the business her family invested in as part of the immigrant partner program. In fact, she has had no contact with that business at all. Her family was left to fend for itself in a small, unfamiliar place, far from home. Starting the Beijing was a way of making some money, and staving off the purposelessness that so many immigrants here feel.
The P.E.I. government has always maintained that despite charges of conflict of interest and political favouritism toward those who received money, and the threat of a renewed RCMP investigation into the program, its provincial nominee program was fundamentally sound, brought much-needed capital to the Island and helped increase P.E.I.’s population by establishing new immigrant communities.
But an investigation by journalism students at the University of King’s College has found that a decade after it started, the now-defunct program has an uncertain legacy.
For some, it became a way for foreign nationals to purchase entry into Canada, by making “investments” they would never recoup, in companies they might not even know the name of. Most who came are now long gone from P.E.I. For businesses, it was an easy source of capital. But the partnerships between the businesses and immigrants that were supposedly at the heart of the program, and gave it its name, often existed on paper only.
Among the findings of the eight-week probe:
The P.E.I. government interpreted Ottawa’s immigration rules in such a way that immigrants could be considered actively involved in businesses they knew little or nothing about.
- The program brought thousands of immigrants to Canada, mostly from China and the Middle East. But with no tangible connection to P.E.I., many immigrants either never came or moved on quickly rather than settle on the Island as Ottawa intended.
- Organizations that would otherwise have been ineligible were able to access immigrant money by creating new corporations structured to meet the program’s rules.
- If the program had operated as advertised, it would have pumped more than $660 million into strategic sectors of the P.E.I. economy, twice the annual value of the Island’s agricultural sector. The real amounts were far less, and more than half of the money was made by middlemen.