Vegreville mayor vows to fight relocation of town's major employer

The mayor of Vegreville says he will fight the relocation of the federal immigration and refugee processing centre that has been the community's major employer since it opened in 1994 after workers at the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Case Processing Centre were told Thursday it will be relocated to Edmonton in 2018.

Immigration processing centre employes 280 people, about 5 per cent of town's population

The federal government announced plans Thursday to relocate to Edmonton a major employer out of the town of Vegreville. (Town of Vegreville)

The mayor of Vegreville says he will fight the relocation of the federal immigration and refugee processing centre that has been the community's major employer since it opened in 1994.

Workers at the Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Case Processing Centre were told Thursday it will be relocated to Edmonton in 2018 when its lease expires, said Mayor Myron Hayduk.

The move and loss of more than 200 jobs will devastate the town of 6,000, as well as surrounding towns, Hayduk warned.

"When you take the ratios, we're losing a minimum of 200 jobs, and if you took that same ratio population-wise to Edmonton, it would be like Edmonton losing 3,500 jobs," he said. 

"We are not going to take this lying down. If I have to make a trip to Ottawa myself and jump up and down in front there, I will do it. This is just too damn much for a town of our size."

The decision to move the centre was a difficult one, said Sonia Lesage, spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. 

More opportunity for employees

"In negotiating a new lease, the department has made the difficult decision to move its case processing centre from Vegreville 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," Lesage said in a email.

"We recognize this relocation will have an impact on existing staff and are making every effort to minimize those impacts."

Employees will be able to keep their current jobs at the new office in Edmonton, which is 100 kilometres west of Vegreville, Lesage said.

"This decision was made in an effort to respond to increased demand in various lines of business, and to expand operations," she added.

But leaders with the union that represents the workers say the move has nothing to do with workload or the capacity of employees to do the work. They are urging the federal government to reverse its decision. 

It will devastate the people in and around Vegreville.- MP Shannon Stubbs

"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," said Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president with the Prairies for Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The MP for the area, Shannon Stubbs, called the decision "appalling," saying it blindsided employees, leaving them distressed.

"It will devastate the people in and around Vegreville," Stubbs told question period in the House of Commons Friday. 

In a written statement issued earlier, Stubbs said: "People in Vegreville can't take another hit, farmers are struggling with crops left in the field, oil and gas workers have lost their jobs in unprecedented numbers, and in so many cases, these CPC Vegreville jobs are the only employment supporting peoples families, not to mention individuals and single parents.

"On top of this, the fact is, relocation or commuting are not options for many of the employees."

The centre processes temporary and permanent residency applications, work permits, visitor records and study permits. It provides backup to other processing centres across Canada.

Stubbs is calling on the Liberal government to immediately reverse the decision.

"I have heard from constituents who are very concerned about what this means for them," she said in her written statement. "They are worried about their futures and ability to stay in their homes, their jobs and their community. I will be writing to Immigration Minister John McCallum to present him with all of the implications his 'made in Ottawa' approach will have on these people and their livelihoods."

with files from Canadian Press