Successful Buddhist magazine rejected as mentor

by BRIAN FLINN, The Daily News, Oct 24, 2007

Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada) -- Halifax-based magazine The Shambhala Sun has won numerous Canadian and international awards for journalism and design. Its circulation extends around the world.

But it wasn't good enough for the province's troubled immigration mentorship program.

The magazine, which is run by a non-profit organization, covers Buddhism and other contemplative traditions. It twice applied to become a mentor, and was rejected both times.

A list released by the Office of Immigration earlier this week shows a Subway restaurant, a gas station and a laundromat won approval to mentor new immigrants during pricey six-month work terms. Each was eligible to make $100,000 for each newcomer they hosted. They had to give $20,000 back to the immigrants in salary.

NDP Immigration critic Leonard Preyra said he has looked at the Shambhala file, and can see no credible reason why the applications were rejected. He believes the magazine is an ethical organization that would have provided good middle-management experience.

Several immigrants say their mentorships with other companies were worthless. The Office of Immigration has offered to rebate money to nominees who have not yet been through a mentorship.

"It's surprising that all of these groups were accepted for mentorships and Shambhala was not," Preyra said. "There may not have been a consistent standard applied."

An April 16 letter from Immigration Office executive director Elizabeth Mills explained Shambhala's rejection.

"It is important to recognize that the primary goal of the business mentor program is to provide economic immigrants with an orientation to the Nova Scotia workplace and to the business environment," she wrote. "Charities and not-for-profit organizations cannot necessarily provide that important introduction to the business community."

The Shambhala Sun is not the only non-profit to apply to become a mentor. The Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, a right-wing think tank, made the list of approved mentor organizations.

Thirteen of the mentors donated a total of $7,261.83 to the ruling Progressive Conservative Party in 2005 and 2006. Quality Cameras and Computers chipped in the smallest amount, at $75. The GEM Health Care Group, which runs a number of nursing homes, gave $3,000, the largest donation.

That's peanuts compared with what the party got from the company that ran the provincial nominee program from December 2002 until June 2006. Cornwallis Financial Corp. kicked in more than $15,000 over a five-year period.

Three of the companies on the list of approved mentors have business connections to Cornwallis president Stephen Lockyer.

To end the mentorship mess, the Office of Immigration needs to prove to Nova Scotians that the program was run fairly, Preyra said.

"It's not what you know but who you know that appears to have determined if you got placed on a mentorship list," he said.

"It's not so much the amounts of money, but the perception that groups connected to the Conservative party or groups connected to Cornwallis got preferential treatment. It's that perception that's just as important as the reality."

Officials with The Shambhala Sun did not return phone calls yesterday.