Manitoba angry about federal immigration changes

Federal changes to immigration services will have a major impact in Manitoba and Premier Greg Selinger is fuming.

Federal changes to immigration services will have a major impact in Manitoba and Premier Greg Selinger is fuming.

As part of the wave of budget cuts happening across the province, the federal Citizenship and Immigration Department office in Winnipeg will be relocated to Calgary.

Ottawa is also cancelling its shared settlement services agreement with the province, according to Selinger.

Without funding from that agreement, the province's highly-successful Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is dead, he said, adding he learned about the changes late Wednesday.

The PNP is a national strategy meant to help skilled workers and entrepreneurs from other countries gain permanent resident status in Canada more quickly.

Until now, the program had been administered by Manitoba but funded by Ottawa.

"We're the closest to the communities and we've got a fantastic success, even acknowledged by Minister [Jason] Kenney himself. So if he's planning to say that he can run it better out of Ottawa or Calgary, I don't think there's any evidence to support that," Selinger said.

He has written a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding the funding be reinstated.

Funding not being cut: Kenney

Kenney, the federal citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism minister, was in Saskatoon on Thursday where he officially announced the changes to the settlement programs in Manitoba and British Columbia.

Those were the only provinces that administered the program. The federal government presided over the administration of it in other provinces.

"This change means that the Government of Canada is … bringing these programs in line with every other province and territory outside Quebec, said Kenney, who denied any decrease in funding.

"This change will not affect a single cent of basic settlement funding for either province," he said. "In fact, settlement funding for newcomers in British Columbia and Manitoba will increase significantly in 2012–2013 compared to the previous year."

Newcomers in both provinces will continue to receive access to language training and other settlement services they need to successfully integrate into Canada’s economy, Kenney added.

The only difference, he added, is that the programs will be controlled by the federal government.

"Our federal government delivers these services in nine provinces and territories," he said.

"We have great expertise at this — quite frankly, more than any provincial government does."

The change will happen in one year’s time in Manitoba and in two years’ time in British Columbia.

Bringing everything under the same administration will ensure "that immigrants have access to a more consistent level of services regardless of where they choose to settle in Canada," Kenney said.

70,000 immigrants

Retired University of Winnipeg professor Tom Carter has studied the PNP and its impact on Manitoba.

He said it has brought 70,000 people to the province since it began in 1999 and he can't understand why the federal government would change it.

"It's brought in new jobs; they've started new businesses. So it's been a very instrumental program in the growth strategy of the province," he said.

Selinger said 85 per cent of those who settle in Manitoba under the PNP get jobs within three months, and most end up working in their chosen fields within three to five years.

"When the federal government used to run the program before, immigrants were not coming to Manitoba; they were going to other major Canadian cities," he said.

A record arrival of 15,770 immigrants from around the world came to Manitoba between October 2010 to October 2011, according to numbers released in December.

At that time, Peter Bjornson, the province's entrepreneurship, training and trade minister, credited the PNP for being "a great success," noting that it now accounts for three-quarters of all new immigrants.