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MIxed reactions to federal budget

|Written By Yamri Taddese

The federal government’s proposal to eliminate the immigrant investor and entrepreneur programs in the 2014 budget should come as “no surprise” for immigration lawyers, says a lawyer in the area.

Less, but probably more complex, work coming to immigration lawyers as a result of changes, says Jonathan Leebosh.

Jonathan Leebosh, a partner at Egan LLP in Vancouver, says members of the immigration bar should now look to other provincial investor programs to help their clients.

The federal government hasn’t been accepting new applications for the immigrant investor program for the last two years, says Leebosh. “I think most lawyers should have seen this coming.”

The move is devastating for the 65,000 applicants who have been waiting through the backlog and making arrangements to immigrate to Canada, often after paying money to immigration consultants, says Leebosh.

“Now, they’re just being told, ‘Sorry, goodbye,’” he adds. “They’ll issue a refund for whatever you paid to Immigration Canada, but everything else, all your plans, anything you paid to external advisers or consultants — gone.”

The 2014 budget called the immigrant investor program “an exception” to the progress Canada has made in aligning its immigration system with its economic needs.

“For decades, [the program] has significantly undervalued Canadian permanent residence, providing a pathway to Canadian citizenship in exchange for a guaranteed loan that is significantly less than our peer countries require.

“There is also little evidence that immigrant investors as a class are maintaining ties to Canada or making a positive economic contribution to the country,” says the budget.

“Overall, immigrant investors report employment and investment income below Canadian averages and pay significantly lower taxes over a lifetime than other categories of economic immigrants.”

In a press release on Wednesday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said he welcomes the budget’s intention to nix the programs.

Details about pilot programs that will replace the cancelled programs will be released in the coming months, the press release notes.

Meanwhile, immigration lawyers should look to provincial programs to help investor clients, says Leebosh. Although the provincial programs don’t typically offer permanent residency in exchange for a sum of money, there are still other roads to Canada for investors with a knack for entrepreneurship, he notes.

“Different provinces have different plans. It remains to be seen, for example, whether Quebec will kill their immigrant investor program as the federal government has killed theirs,” he says. “There are a number of provincial nominee programs and many of the provinces have a stream of their nominee programs [designed] for entrepreneurs.”

This year’s budget also reiterates changes to the labour market opinion process, an adjustment Leebosh says will mean lawyers getting less but more complex work.

“Over the last two years, they’ve been making it much more challenging to get approvals from Service Canada for LMOs, and I’d say it’s having likely the desired effect of fewer applications,” he says.

“What does that mean for lawyers? Fewer employers applying for LMOs means generally less work for lawyers. I’d say, however, [there will be] less number of applications but [the work will be] far more complex, far more time consuming, and there’s no such thing as a simple LMO anymore.”

There wasn’t much in the way of new initiatives for justice in this year’s budget, although the government announced additional judges will be appointed in Quebec and Alberta, and renewed funding for the Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

The a $22 million over two years promise for aboriginal justice is good, says aboriginal lawyer David McRobert, but “much more could be done to support aboriginal communities.”

Following reports showing the seriousness of aboriginal communities’ strained relationship with the justice system, McRobert says the government had more reason to introduce new initiatives and increase funding for existing programs.

“It’s a missed opportunity to do more in terms of funding,” he says. “[The federal government], should, in theory, be able to invest more in these type of programs.”

In the budget, the government also said it will “continue efforts to reduce violence against aboriginal women and girls.”

“Budget 2010 provided $25 million over five years to take concrete actions to address the disturbingly high number of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. Through this investment, the government has made targeted improvements to law enforcement and the justice system, including the creation of the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains,” the budget says, noting the $25 million funding would be renewed for another five years starting in 2015-16.

It’s “hard to quarrel” with the enhancements listed in the budget, says McRobert, who adds there are few details as to how much money is going into each initiative.

“The pattern of this government has been to announce things in the budget and you don’t see the details until much later,” he says.

The budget was also short on details regarding the proposed victims bill of rights, a legislation that will give “more voice” to victims of crime in the justice system, according to the government.

“Economic Action Plan 2014 supports the implementation of the Canadian victims bill of rights,” reads the budget. “The Canadian victims bill of rights will provide victims with online resources that will help individuals access the federal programs and services available for victims of crime and a web portal that will allow victims to access information, including a photo of their offender, before they are released.”

More details about the bill of rights “will be announced in the coming months,” the budget says.

Criminal lawyers have expressed concerns about the victims bill of rights, with some saying it doesn’t respond to what victims of crime actually need — a speedy process and adequate compensation. Criminal Lawyers Association president Antony Moustacalis called the proposed legislation “specious.

“This government is very good at passing legislation that sounds good but has no real effect on the constituents that it’s seeking to support. Victims aren’t going to get anything more out of this than they already have,” Moustacalis told Law Times.

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