Vegreville could lose 420 residents if immigration centre closes, report says

The union representing workers at the federal immigration and refugee processing centre in Vegreville are hopeful after meeting with the new immigration minister in Ottawa this week.

'We will continue to push. In our mind, the issue is not closed'

Moving the Vegreville Case Processing Centre to Edmonton will devastate Vegreville, warns Mayor Myron Hayduk. (Michelle Henderson)

Closing one of Vegreville's largest employers would mean not only 236 lost jobs for the town but also have major impacts on the town's social fabric, a new report shows.

A socio-economic report prepared by Nichols Applied Management Inc. for the Town of Vegreville shows approximately 420 people, mostly adults aged 30 to 50 and their young families, could move out of town if the federal immigrant and refugee processing centre is relocated to Edmonton.

"This is going to cut down on our future growth," Mayor Myron Hayduk told CBC News in response to the report released on Tuesday.

"It's going to affect every part of — not only our economy — it's going to affect our social lives as well," Hayduk said.

If all 420 people moved, the town of 5,708 residents 100 kilometres east of Edmonton would see its population decline by more than seven per cent, the report said.

The report said municipal revenues could decline by $1.2 million, housing values could drop by 25 to 30 per cent, and enrolment in local schools could decrease by 130 students.

Report on agenda for town meeting

The report is to be discussed Tuesday night at a town hall meeting.

Town officials want the ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to reconsider its decision to close the immigration and refugee processing centre.

Staff were told last fall the centre will be relocated to Edmonton in 2018 when the current lease on the building expires.

The union representing workers is hopeful after meeting with new Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen in Ottawa this week.

Former Vegreville Mayor Myron Hayduk is fighting the decision of the Alberta Human Rights Commission to pay a employee he interviewed $56,000 in lost wages and damages. (Supplied)

"We did raise several issues that they may not have thought of," said Marianne Hladun, regional executive vice-president for the Prairies of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The union suggested the government consider retaining the centre as a satellite office or other options, Hladun said.

"The bottom line is that the department doesn't need to close the Case Processing Centre in Vegreville in order to expand operations in Edmonton."

Hladun said several options were presented to Hussen, who landed the post as part of a federal cabinet shuffle in January.

"There's always hope," Hladun said. "We're conditioned to believe there has to be hope. So they have not completely closed the door, but from our perspective we will continue to push.

"In our mind the issue's not closed. Once we see what their response is, we'll determine our next actions."

The issue was raised by Vegreville-area MP Shannon Stubbs during question period Tuesday in the House of Commons.

Hussen said he understands that moving the centre will have an impact on staff and on Vegreville. But moving the centre to Edmonton will have benefits, he said.

"The new location will have an expanded case-processing centre ability and will actually create more middle-class jobs for Alberta."

Relocation 'not justified'

Vegreville's mayor remains convinced the relocation is not justified.

"I could not find anything, either economically or efficiency-wise, why this [centre] would relocate," he said.  "The figures I'm getting do not make sense. It's going to cost more to relocate."

In our mind, the issue's not closed.- Marianne Hladun, Public Service Alliance of Canada

To come up with the findings in its report, Nichols Applied Management surveyed employees of the centre and used provincial and municipal models to determine how much economic activity the facility generates for the community.

The consulting firm said many employees interviewed hadn't decided whether they would move to Edmonton, so the figures are based on assumption that half of the workers would stay in Vegreville and half would relocate to Edmonton.

Hayduk said he has a face-to-face meeting with Hussen in the next couple of weeks, during which he will plead his case for keeping the centre in Vegreville.