A group of Albertans worried about a federal government decision to move one of their community’s biggest employers hoped to send a message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday.
Trudeau held a photo op and news conference at Edmonton’s TELUS World of Science, where he was promoting the Canada Child Benefit.
Inside, he was flanked by smiling families – presumably, recipients of the financial benefit he was there to promote. Outside though, were other families who stand to lose their incomes completely.
“Our families matter! Our families matter! Our families matter!” the group chanted.
Located about an hour east of Edmonton, the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Case Processing Centre (CPC) in Vegreville, Alta. employs about 220 people. Last fall, it was announced the facility would be shut down and relocated to Canada Place — a federal building 100 kilometres away in downtown Edmonton.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the move will make it “easier to recruit and retain both qualified and bilingual employees.” It also said existing employees will be offered jobs at the new office.
“These folks are very, very important parts of our community,” said businessman Scott Dixon, who owns the Boston Pizza in Vegreville and is a member of the local district of commerce.
“They’re volunteers in our community, they live and work in our community and it’s just really important to come out and support our town.”
Trudeau acknowledged the transition will be difficult for many families and said the government is working closely with the community.
“There are jobs at the new location for anyone who chooses,” Trudeau said on Saturday. “But at the same time, this is something we need to do to ensure the continued high quality of services that Canadians expect.”
Another factor cited as the reason behind the move: cost savings. But documents obtained by Global News last week show the federal government would take about $10.8 million dollars in higher renovation and leasing costs because of it.
WATCH: The Alberta community of Vegreville is set to lose hundreds of jobs as the federal government shuts down an immigration processing centre. David Akin explains what’s behind the move, and what the consequences are.
Local officials say if the federal government moves forward with relocation plans, the community stands to lose more than seven per cent of its population.
“Prime Minister Trudeau is in Edmonton to talk about families and kids, so I’m here with families and kids who will be impacted by the closure of the case processing centre in Vegreville,” said Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative MP who represents the riding set to lose the centre.
On Thursday, Stubbs launched a fiery attack on the Trudeau government over the issue in Question Period. She returned to Alberta on the weekend to add her voice to the chorus of concerned Albertans.
“I want the prime minister – if he cares about middle class families, if he cares about women like the 76 per cent of employees who work in the Vegreville case processing centre, if he’s here to talk about how he cares about families and kids and he wants to do the right thing – then he needs to tell his minister to stop this closure and keep that office open,” Stubbs said.
Earlier this year, the Town of Vegreville even extended an invitation to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to visit the central Alberta community. He did not go. Dixon said the conversation about the closure has been one-sided.
“He’s certainly not with Vegreville.”
Trudeau did not stop to speak with the group or listen to their concerns. Instead, he waved towards them as he left the Edmonton facility.
The closure is scheduled to happen in 2018.