The federal Conservatives are taking aim at the Liberal government for its decision to move the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Case Processing Centre (CPC) from Vegreville to Edmonton.
On Thursday night, federal interim Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose stood outside Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi’s office in southeast Edmonton to criticize the government about its decision.
“This is not only a misguided, devastating decision, Minister Sohi, the liberal minister, the senior liberal minister at the cabinet table has done absolutely nothing to explain his decision or to fight to keep these jobs in Vegreville,” Ambrose said.
“At a time when unemployment is crippling Alberta, particularly rural Alberta, this is not the actions of a minister who’s standing up for people in the province.”
The facility employs 280 people. At least 200 of those employees live in Vegreville, which has around 6,000 residents.
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the department made the decision to move the CPC to Edmonton because of its proximity to universities, public transit and housing options, and because it’ll be easier to recruit and retain qualified employees.
A government spokesperson said the hope is to retain as much of the current staff as possible when the centre moves to Alberta’s capital in 2018.
“The only explanation that we’ve received is that these jobs will be moved to another part of Alberta and interestingly that’s a liberal held riding,” Ambrose said.
“That of course begs the question, why, when in the past we’ve been told this processing centre has been run very efficiently, very well.”
Alberta’s unemployment rate was 8.5 per cent in October, according to Statistics Canada.
It was considerably higher in Calgary, where the rate jumped from 9.5 per cent in September to 10.2 per cent in October. It was the highest rate among the 33 metropolitan areas surveyed by the federal agency.
The interim Opposition Leader called the decision to move the CPC to Edmonton another blow to Alberta.
“There is a job crisis and they refuse to recognize that,” Ambrose said. “They’ve done nothing to attract investment in this province, nothing to give Alberta working families some hope.”
The national unemployment rate was 7.0 per cent last month.
In 2015, Statistics Canada’s numbers showed Alberta had a net loss of 19,600 jobs, which was higher than the 17,200 jobs lost in 2009 and the most since 1982, when the province shed 45,000 jobs.
At that time, the province was reeling from a recession and the federally-imposed national energy program, ending the year with an unemployment rate of 10.3 per cent.
The job loss numbers were a stark contrast to 2014, when Alberta added 63,700 positions — more than half of all jobs created in Canada that year.