Douglas Todd: Will the new leader of Quebec kill its immigrant-investor program?

Good sharp and pointed commentary:

The new premier of Quebec has promised to reduce immigration to his province by 20 per cent, require newcomers to learn French in three years and restrict some public servants from wearing religious symbols.

Premier-designate Francois Legault won a majority on Oct. 1 in large part because he professed to be committed to better “integrating” newcomers into the francophone province. But so far Legault has not hinted at ending Quebec’s divisive immigrant-investor program, one of the world’s biggest wealth migration schemes.

The Quebec Immigrant Investor Program — which attracts nine out of 10 of its millionaire applicants from Asia, mostly China — does the opposite of integrating immigrants into a distinct culture. Only one in 10 of the well-to-do migrants who take advantage of Quebec’s investor program choose to live in that province.

Most of the roughly 5,000 migrants a year who exploit Quebec’s buy-a-passport program immediately move to Metro Vancouver and Toronto, where their foreign-sourced dollars pump up the cities’ already high-priced real estate. The decades-old Quebec Immigrant Investor Program is a cynical scheme that doesn’t do what it claims.

And it’s made possible because Quebec is the only Canadian province allowed to set its own immigration policies. (The country’s other premiers in 2016 asked Ottawa for the right to also establish their own immigration rules, but so far their plea has gone nowhere. That could be unfortunate.)

Everyone who signs up for Quebec’s investor program has to hand over an $800,000 interest-free, five-year loan to the government and sign a document citing their firm intention to make their home in Quebec. But only 10 per cent of the 58,000 people who used the program, and remain in Canada, live in the province.

Half of Quebec’s investor immigrants who remain in Canada (many just return to their homeland, with their second passport safely in hand) have set up in the Vancouver region, with most of the rest in Greater Toronto.

Despite Quebec politicians’ oft-professed dedication to Quebec culture, they have for decades shown no signs of caring about the millionaire migrants’ lack of loyalty. The bizarre unintended consequence is that, since Canada’s charter gives everyone mobility rights, the Quebec program has become a key contributor to the unaffordability that is devastating so many residents of Metro Vancouver and Toronto.

One of the many perplexing things about the program is that Quebec’s media, which is normally ruthless at exposing political deception, has almost entirely ignored the province’s farcical investor program since it was instituted in 1986.

Many countries have brought in similar investor schemes, but immigration lawyers say Quebec’s program remains the world’s easiest and most generous, since it asks so little of investors and they get a tremendous amount in return. As a popular website founded by immigration lawyer Colin Singer says: “Successful candidates get permanent residency, which offers access to Canada’s social support network and the right to live anywhere in the country.”

Will Quebec’s new premier, Francois Legault, cancel his province’s immigrant-investor program? He wants immigrants to better integrate. But only 10 per cent of the 58,000 investors who used the program and still remain in Canada actually reside in La Belle Province. Half end up in Metro Vancouver.

Why has the program not been cut? Why is it not on the agenda of the new Coalition Avenir Quebec government or even of most of the French and English-language media, where Quebec news this month has been dominated by Legault’s more symbolic intention to stop allowing judges, police officers, teachers and other key public servants to wear religious symbols?

Part of the explanation for the near-complete silence must be that the program serves the self-interest of Quebec’s business sector. The immigration website of Singer, a longtime booster of investor programs, boasts that the program has made it possible for Investment Quebec, a provincial government corporation, to provide $714 million to 4,737 businesses in Quebec from 2001-2016.

In other words, Quebec’s businesses get the migrants’ cash, but the province doesn’t get the immigrants. Nor does Quebec bear the cost of providing their families with education or other social programs. Is that what Quebeckers want? And is that acceptable to Legault, who came into power on his promise to help immigrants better integrate into the province of which he is so proud?

It gets worse. In a rare exception by Quebec’s media, Radio Canada journalists last month teamed up with the South China Morning Post’s Vancouver-based Ian Young and reported that fraud, forgery, money laundering and corruption is rife in the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program. Their investigative piece revealed that the trans-national subterfuge often begins with shady immigration lawyers in Hong Kong who mostly serve clients from China.

The influential Economist magazine last month published an extensive feature exploring the widespread corruption inherent in many immigrant investor programs, which often make it possible for so-called high-net-worth individuals to evade taxes and in many cases the law-enforcement officials trying to track dirty fortunes.

It’s hard to know what Legault and his party will do. As the co-founder of Air Transat and a gung-ho entrepreneur, he may hold his nose and convince himself that offshore millionaires’ handouts to Quebec businesses are needed to boost the economy. Or he could live up to his commitment to integration. On the surface, he seems a man of integrity, comfortable with adopting pragmatic policies from both the right and left. So British Columbians could end up pleasantly surprised.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for Quebec’s premier to kill the province’s investor scheme, since they’re under attack around the globe. After all, the federal Conservatives cancelled Canada’s program in 2014, noting few investors paid significant income taxes in Canada and most didn’t want to permanently settle in the country anyways. Most rich investors are seeking a Canadian passport as an insurance policy in case things go sideways in their country of origin.

Deciding the future of the Quebec Immigrant Investor Program will be a profound test of Legault’s character. Will he hypocritically take millionaire migrants’ money and let them run to English-speaking regions of the country? Or will he stand up for his vision and the dignity of his beloved province?

Source: Douglas Todd: Will the new leader of Quebec kill its immigrant-investor program?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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