OTTAWA – The federal government will take on millions of dollars in higher renovation and leasing costs to move an immigration case processing centre from the central Alberta town of Vegreville to Edmonton, according to documents obtained by Global News.
The documents directly contradict an assertion made in November by former Immigration Minister John McCallum that the relocation would save money.
The community of Vegreville, with a population of about 5,000 and located about 100 km east of Edmonton, is fighting the decision. It says it stands to lose more than 7 per cent of its population if the facility and its 280 jobs are moved to the Alberta capital.
“We will survive but it’s going to hurt,” Vegreville Mayor Myron Hayduk said Wednesday. “But is it necessary? I’m a rational person but I cannot see a rational reason for doing this.”
McCallum, when asked last fall why the relocation was necessary, said his department had a made a strong business case for the move.
“The government inherited a completely broken immigration system, so our priority has to be to improve service, to reduce processing time, and to spend taxpayers’ money wisely,” then Immigration Minister John McCallum told the House of Commons last November.
McCallum also sent a letter to Shannon Stubbs, the Conservative MP who represents voters in Vegreville, in which he wrote, “The relocation will also save money as the new office space will be located within the Government of Canada’s existing property inventory.”
Except it will not save money.
This week, Global News obtained an internal costing analysis done by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) last year that shows vastly higher costs to set up the processing centre in Edmonton. The analysis hosts that Ottawa will spend $46.6 million on renovations and leasing over a 25-year period to create a processing facility that can employe 312 people at Canada Place, a federally owned office building in downtown Edmonton.
But upgrading the existing Vegreville so that it could employ 312 people, would cost Ottawa $10.8 million less or $35.8 million over 25 years.
“They just haven’t made the case that they need to close Vegreville in order to hire in Edmonton,” Stubbs said Wednesday. “And certainly they can’t keep repeating this line that it’s about responsible taxpayer management when it evidently and obviously is not.”
Another talking point in defence of the move was that retention and recruitment of staff in Vegreville was becoming difficult and that it would be easier to find qualified and bilingual employees in Edmonton.
In the House of Commons Wednesday, Stubbs noted that the Vegreville staff “consistently exceed departmental targets and out-perform other offices. They unquestionably provide good value for taxpayers.”
McCallum’s successor as immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, was not in the House of Commons Wednesday.
Existing Vegreville staff have all been promised jobs at the facility in Edmonton if they wish to commute there or move there.
In 2008, a report by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry recommended that the federal government should do more to help small-town and rural Canada partly by moving at least 10 per cent of federal government jobs out of large cities like Edmonton and into small towns, like Vegreville.
According to the most recent data held by Statistics Canada, about 75 per cent of the federal government’s 315,500 employees work in large urban centres like Toronto or Montreal. About one-third of those or 135,900 work in the Ottawa—Gatineau region.
With files from Global News / David Akin