Dozens of protesters gathered at Canada Place in downtown Edmonton on Thursday to voice their displeasure over the federal government’s plan to move an immigration processing centre from Vegreville to Alberta’s capital.
Emotions continue to run high over the decision made late last year. Thursday’s rally was the the second protest over the issue in Edmonton this week. On Saturday, a group of angry Albertans voiced their concerns outside the TELUS World of Science as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a news conference inside.
“They say they stand for middle-class families – that’s who they’re hurting in the community of Vegreville,” said Marianne Hladun, regional vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
“It is not an option – it is not a choice for many of the employees to relocate to Edmonton for a variety of reasons.
“This is costing taxpayers $11 million more than if they just leave the centre in Vegreville.”
When the move was announced last fall, then Immigration Minister John McCallum said the move was being made in part to save taxpayers money.
“The government inherited a completely broken immigration system, so our priority has to be to improve service, to reduce processing time, and to spend taxpayers’ money wisely,” McCallum told the House of Commons last November.
However, last week Global News reported an internal cost analysis contradicts McCallum’s claims the move will save money.
Watch below: On May 17, 2017, David Akin filed this report about the rationale behind shutting down an immigration processing centre in Vegreville, Alta.
The documents project Ottawa will spend $46.6 million on renovations and leasing over a 25-year period to create a processing facility that can employ 312 people at Canada Place, a federal office building in downtown Edmonton. Upgrading the existing Vegreville office so that it could employ 312 people would cost Ottawa $10.8 million less, or $35.8 million over 25 years.
When Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs brought up the Global News report in Question Period at the House of Commons last week, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale suggested the move was intended to address staffing difficulties.
“Mr. Speaker, sadly about 20 per cent of the available positions at the current location are vacant,” Goodale said. “The move will address the staffing challenge and allow for an expansion of immigration operations and create additional jobs for Alberta. In fact, the new centre will accommodate 312 employees and will effectively double the capacity of the existing system.”
Stubbs, who counts citizens of Vegreville among her constituents, was also at Thursday’s rally.
“If this can be done to Vegreville, when it’s more expensive and there’s no reason… This can happen to any federal public service office anywhere.”
The community of Vegreville, with a population of about 5,000, is located about 100 kilometres east of Edmonton.
– With files from David Akin