The Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Case Processing Centre (CPC) in Vegreville, which employs roughly five per cent of the community, will be shut down and relocated to Edmonton.
Town Manager Cliff Craig said the announcement came as a shock. According to the local MP, the centre employs about 280 people.
“The case processing centre is one of the largest employers in town,” Craig said, “but it also affects the businesses, the number of students in our school system … It has an impact on the community as a whole.”
Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative MP for the area, is calling the decision “yet another example of the attack on rural Canadians… at a time when people and communities are already struggling due to the downturn in the oil and gas sector and bad government policies, this will devastate them even more.”
“These employees and their families will be affected by this move which will also result in a domino effect on other businesses,” Stubbs said.
The town manager said, at a municipal level, many are upset about the way the CPC decision was handled.
“This is the first that we have heard of it,” Craig said. “The decision has already been made and the planning has apparently been for the past six months. As far as a municipality, we had no input. We didn’t even know about this. There was no consultation with the municipality.”
Stubbs said she had heard that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has gradually reduced the number of cases it sends to the Vegreville centre.
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said, while negotiating a new lease, the department made the decision to move the CPC to Edmonton, “the closest major city, where the proximity to universities, the availability of public transit and housing options, and career growth opportunities within the federal government will make it easier to recruit and retain both qualified and bilingual employees and to meet our growing needs.”
“We recognize this relocation will have an impact on existing staff and are making every effort to minimize those impacts,” Sonia Lesage said in the statement.
“All current IRCC indeterminate employees will have the opportunity to continue their employment in their current positions once the office is relocated to Edmonton,” she said. “Term employees at the time of the move will be offered employment at the new office.
“This decision was made in an effort to respond to increased demand in various lines of business, and to expand operations.”
Lesage said the new office will be located in Edmonton within the Government of Canada’s “existing office portfolio.”
The town said Citizen and Immigration Canada assistant deputy minister of operations, Robert Orr, spoke to employees Thursday to inform them that the current building’s lease would be expiring in February 2019. The department, however, would be relocated to Edmonton by the end of 2018.
“A couple of the reasons that they said were to have more bilingual employees and to be closer to education centres,” Craig said.
Vegreville is approximately 100 kilometres east of Edmonton.
The union representative took issue with the reasons cited for the move.
“This has nothing to do with workload or the capacity of these employees to deliver the service,” Mike Brecht, the Prairie representative for the Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU).
“The reasons given by department heads were trivial when compared to the impact on the community of Vegreville, including our members and their families.”
“We urge the federal government to reverse their decision for the sake of the employees and for the community of Vegreville,” Marianne Hladun with Prairies for PSAC. “For a government that campaigned to ‘strengthen our communities by investing in the things that make them good places to live’, this announcement is yet another failure to meet their election promises at the expense of this community.”