Olive Crane’s attempts to get PNP information voted down by committee’s Liberal majority
Opposition leader’s attempts to get PNP information voted down by committee.
The Opposition again tried Thursday to get more information from the auditor general about the Provincial Nominee Program — this time about the province’s potential liability for PNP refunds — but once again it was defeated by the Liberals.
Over the past several weeks, the public accounts committee has been probing Auditor General Colin Younker’s report on his investigation into the controversial PNP.
Younker’s findings point to a number of specific instances where he found rules were broken or sidestepped by PNP directors and other senior government officials.
Week after week, the Opposition members on the committee try to get more information about the administration of this program.
But efforts to get details are continually voted down by the Liberal majority on the committee.
On Thursday, there were many queries on the still unanswered question about who is liable to pay back immigrants who may withdraw their applications due to a possible five-year wait for Canadian visas.
That is because P.E.I. pushed through as many applications as it could before the federal government changed the program’s rules on Sept. 2.
That has caused a backlog of applications at visa posts, which federal officials have advised will lead to years of delays.
Younker states in his report it is likely many immigrants will withdraw their applications due to these delays and want their money back. But the money has already been invested and spent.
The province has a contingency fund for this scenario, but only enough for a seven per cent loss.
If a larger percentage decides the wait is too long, there are major liability concerns about who would pay the millions in the difference.
Younker said Thursday he was given a draft of a legal opinion sought by the government from a law firm outside P.E.I., but has been told a final word on the matter is still being looked into.
In the meantime, many businesses are concerned they might be held liable, since the province and at least one intermediary have said they don’t believe they are.
Opposition Leader Olive Crane moved a motion asking to have the legal firm that provided its opinion to government appear before the committee. That was defeated by the six Liberal MLAs.
She also moved motions to have the federal deputy minister and federal program director Heidi Smith from Citizenship and Immigration Canada appear to discuss the potential liabili- ty. That too was defeated.
Frustrated, Crane told the committee she doesn’t understand why information is being blocked.
“ There’s all kinds of issues the auditor is raising, I guess I’m not sure why we’re here as a committee because we can’t ask questions, and when we ask questions and we can’t get information back,” Crane said.
“ We’re supposed to be public accounts. We’re supposed to be holding government accountable, this gov- ernment has administered this program from the beginning and it’s disappointing that no one seems to want to take our job seriously for the province.”
The only motion that was successful Thursday was one moved by Liberal MLA Paula Biggar to endorse the findings of the auditor general.
Committee chair Jim Bagnall called this a “ bread-and-butter motion.”
It passed unanimously.
Conservative MLA Jim Bagnall, chair of the legislature’s public accounts committee, presides over a meeting Thursday.
Opposition Leader Olive Crane speaks during a meeting of the public accounts committee in Charlottetown Thursday. Crane raised a number of questions about the controversial Provincial Nominee Program.