Manitoba politicians spar over immigration changes

A war of words took place at the Manitoba legislature between the NDP government, which is fighting to keep the provincial nominee program, and the Tories.
Manitoba's NDP government is demanding that Ottawa reverse immigration changes that will affect the provincial nominee program. 2:07

A war of words took place at the Manitoba legislature on Thursday afternoon between the NDP government, which is fighting to keep the provincial nominee program, and the Tories.

Some of the 100 to 150 people who came to the Manitoba legislature on Thursday afternoon to protest changes to the provincial nominee program. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)

Immigration Minister Christine Melnick stood in the legislature following question period and demanded that the federal government reverse its decision to cancel its shared settlement services agreement with the province.

Without funding from that agreement, Manitoba's Provincial Nominee Program is dead, according to the province.

The program 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.

Ottawa's decision to cancel its funding agreement was announced earlier this month, around the same time as a wave of federal budget cuts that included relocating the federal Citizenship and Immigration Department office in Winnipeg to Calgary.

The public chamber at the legislature was packed with supporters of the Provincial Nominee Program on Thursday afternoon.

Local support for immigrants

Another 150 people couldn't get into the gallery and are standing in the rotunda. Many of them say they have taken part in the provincial nominee program.

Among those who attended was Dorota Blumczynska, who is from Poland and is on maternity leave from her job with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba.

Blumczynska said the provincial program works because it has local people who know how to help immigrants make Manitoba their home.

"The only way you can provide responsive support services is by knowing the community and being on the ground," she said.

"So how can you say that by just changing the administration, you won't change the programming? That's not possible."

Blumczynska added that her husband came to Canada from India through the nominee program five years ago.

"In a couple of years, he's going to be a citizen. And he pays his taxes, and he contributes, and he is the very reason this program exists," she said.

"And now, our family is here because he's here."

Tory MPs come to legislature

But in an unprecedented move, four Manitoba Conservative MPs — Shelly Glover, Joy Smith, James Bezan and Candice Hoeppner — also came to the legislature to to show their support for the federal government's decision.

"The MPs are coming in to straighten the story out," Smith said.

"The story has been totally misleading, it's scaring people, and we have to get that story straight."

Smith said the program will stay the same, but it will simply be managed by the federal government.

But Premier Greg Selinger said Manitoba's program has been a model for the rest of Canada and should not be tampered with.

The NDP government has the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which says thousands of its members came to Manitoba under the program.

'Three-ring circus'

A source told CBC News the debate over Melnick's demand would become a "three-ring circus."

CBC News obtained a copy of an email from Ben Rempel, the assistant deputy minister of the provincial immigration department, inviting people to show up at the legislative building.

A government spokesperson told CBC News the email was sent to settlement service providers in Manitoba.

Mavis Taillieu, the Opposition Progressive Conservative immigration critic, blasted the NDP when she learned about the email.

Conservative Tweets

"The MB NDP plan to fill the gallery with immigrants tomorrow ( scooped up all the passes ) and intend to skewer Cdn gov't."

— Manitoba MLA Myrna Driedger

"Actually, they had senior public servants (eg ADM) ask settlement staff to cut work to attend.Is that how things work in MB?"

— Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney

"It's totally inappropriate for a bureaucrat to be involved in any political activity which this is. It's just an abuse of power by the NDP," she said.

Taillieu said the provincial government's motives aren't so much about protecting anything as they are about trying to score political points against the Conservatives.

"They've totally politicized the whole issue which is very very unfortunate. They really need to work with the federal government because at the end of the day, it's the immigrants that need the services," she said.

Other Conservatives took to Twitter to express their anger with the NDP.

"The MB NDP plan to fill the gallery with immigrants tomorrow (scooped up all the passes) and intend to skewer Cdn gov't," Manitoba MLA Myrna Driedger tweeted to Jason Kenney, the federal immigration minister.

"Actually, they had senior public servants (eg ADM) ask settlement staff to cut work to attend.Is that how things work in MB?" Kenney tweeted back.