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Conservative MP seizes agenda from immigration minister at committee

Immigration Minister John McCallum was set to provide a Commons committee with details on Canada's 2017 immigration plan, but a Conservative MP took the floor for an hour to tell him how the planned closure of an immigration case office in Alberta would affect residents there.

A teary Shannon Stubbs reads out letters on impact of government office closure in her riding

Immigration Minister John McCallum was left with little time to explain the government's immigration targets for 2017 after a Conservative MP spent an hour reading letters about a looming office closure in her Alberta riding. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Immigration Minister John McCallum appeared before a House of Commons committee Tuesday to answer questions on Canada's plan to bring in 300,000 immigrants and refugees next year, but his time was cut short by a Conservative MP whose Alberta riding stands to lose 280 jobs due to a federal office closure.

MP Shannon Stubbs took the floor for more than an hour to read letters from residents about the impact of the planned closure of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada's case processing centre in Vegreville, Alta.

Stubbs told McCallum she wanted an economic impact analysis of the decision that she said would be "complete devastation" for the town of 5,800. She broke down in tears as she read statements from employees, businesses and local residents who said it would ravage the local economy, sports teams and charities.

Stubbs added she was advocating for the community that is enduring "extreme anxiety and escalating stress."

She said the closure, announced in October, is the equivalent of the loss of 290,000 jobs in Toronto. It would have a dramatic effect on the community's youth, who look to the office as a future employer and an entry into the civil service.

"The impact on our youth population will be felt on locals schools, with up to 25 per cent of Vegreville students possibly having to leave our schools to relocate with their families," she read from one letter.

Her office has received about 100 letters and more than 200 phone calls on the issue, she said.

Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs breaks down while reading letters from her constituents for an hour during a meeting of the immigration committee today. 1:58

McCallum defended the decision to move the centre to Edmonton, about 100 kilometres away, saying it would improve efficiency. He said the lease on the Vegreville building was up and that certain job vacancies were not being filled.

"It was felt there would be a much stronger performance in Edmonton and hence the decision was made," he said.

The committee returned to questions on the immigration targets after about an hour. 

NDP MP Jenny Kwan raised concerns about the lengthy delays in the caregiver program, where processing applications can take longer than four years.

"We value these workers and we should treat them right," she said. "And this is wrong."

Reducing backlog

Last month, McCallum announced the Liberal government would boost the base number of immigrants allowed into Canada in 2017 to help drive economic growth as the country grapples with an aging demographic. Today, he said the goal is to reunite families faster, bring in skilled workers and reduce the backlog of claims.

He said he will make a "good news" announcement on processing times for the family class on Wednesday.

Between 2011 and 2015, the annual target was set at 260,000. It jumped to 300,000 this year because of what McCallum called the "special circumstances" of the Syrian refugee crisis. That number will now become the permanent base.

The government's economic growth council had recommended raising immigration levels to 450,000 over the next five years, but McCallum rejected that figure.