Selfie sticks were oddly missing on October 27 when senior federal government officials announced at a staff-only meeting that the Case Processing Centre (CPC) for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) would be relocated from the town of Vegreville to Edmonton, Alberta.
It is a move the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship John McCallum says will result in the responsible spending of taxpayer money, create more net jobs in Alberta, correct inefficiencies, and reduce processing times.
It seems strange then that the Liberals didn’t choose to invite the media to what they considered to be such a positive announcement.
While on his campaign tour for the leadership of the federal Liberal Party, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stood in the centre of Vegreville and pledged his allegiance to rural Alberta.
Three years later and there was no prior consultation with the town of Vegreville about a decision that would so deeply impact an entire community. Five percent of the town works at the CPC Vegreville IRCC office which processes temporary and permanent residency applications, studies permits and other immigration files. It’s a sad irony when workers who help displaced people become displaced themselves.
Myron Hayduk, the mayor of Vergeville, arrived without invitation to the CPC staff meeting. Having received an anonymous call alerting him that there was a problem, he was only advised minutes before about the relocation plan was announced. He didn’t stop to change out of his grease stained coveralls, having come directly from his auto body shop, to confront the government officials and demand an explanation.
Catherine Legan, President of Local 30876 of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU), sat in shock and anger amongst her colleagues and friends hearing this news for the first time.
“They gave us no time to process what was happening – they sent us back to work at 1:30 pm. For the first hour of their presentation, the departmental officials spent a great deal of time applauding the work of our CPC staff, ” Legan said. “So much in fact, that some of us began to wonder if we were about to receive bonus cheques like our executive counterparts – instead, they rewarded our hard work by advising us that our lives and community would effectively be torn apart.”
Workers bearing the cost
By the time the employer got around to describing their ‘strong business case’ for moving the CPC to Edmonton, employees were in tears.
Work Force Adjustment (WFA) sessions were held over the next few days, as approximately 280 workers learned that a ‘reasonable job offer’ would be given 90 minutes away in Edmonton. Permanent staff would receive moving fees. But the 75 term employees, and countless casual staff, some of whom have been working at the CPC for five and six years, would not be entitled to the same benefits.
In a small community of approximately 6,000 residents, where over 100 houses are already on the market, employees asked about the devaluation of their homes as families depart for Edmonton. Not to worry, advised the employer, as there are devaluation compensations available.
But a review of the National Joint Council directive on relocation stipulates a cap of $15,000. Legan says for many workers living on farms with many acres, it is a spit in the bucket. Add to this the cost increase of purchasing a home in the greater Edmonton area and this means workers will take a major hit.
This is the story of a small town being decimated by the Liberals in Ottawa. As employees are forced to relocate, with them go spouses, and hundreds of school-aged children. Schools, small businesses, and the farming community will all be devastated in Vegreville.
It’s unknown how many millions of dollars will be taken out of the community, how the schools will handle declining enrolment, or how many small businesses will shut down because of a serious decline in consumer spending. During the 2016 United Way campaign at the CPC, $15,000 alone was raised for the community.
No sector of society will remain untouched by this Liberal decision. The Vegreville Assisted Living In Dignity (VALID) is a group of persons with disabilities who are currently being employed by the CPC. These employees will lose their jobs, their structured environment that allows them to thrive in their community as well as their sense of independence and dignity of having work. They have been valued members of the CPC family for many years and they too will be forgotten as the Liberals search to ‘spend taxpayer money responsibly.’
Workers who cannot relocate face three hours of commuting everyday to their relocated worksite. Employees who currently pay no parking will also be faced with astronomical parking costs in downtown Edmonton. We’re left to ponder if this will be another example of the federal government receiving breaks on their facilities agreements by allowing privately-owned parking operators to charge elevated fees, shifting even more expenditures onto the backs of their employees.
The average CPC employee nets only $36,384 annually. Between gas, mileage, parking, additional child care costs and a loss of work/life balance, perhaps the Minister of Immigration would like to reconsider his statements about his ‘strong business case.’
And what about that business case? To date, the employer hasn’t identified what building in Edmonton the CPC is moving to, so how could a ‘strong business case’ have even been made with no tangible plan in place? How can a cost analysis have been completed? When asked by the local union how many jobs they intend to create by moving to Edmonton, government officials had no answer for them. The addition of 280 jobs is not going to have much of an impact in Edmonton. But the loss of them will devastate the town of Vegreville.
Cuts mean worse service
Minister McCallum has stated that relocation will result in increased processing times – an interesting assumption, given the precedent set two years ago when spousal applications were rerouted to Mississauga causing such delays that the backlogged inventory was quickly sent back to Vegreville for completion.
Mike Brecht, CEIU Deputy Trustee for Alberta, is appalled by the lack of consultation with the local union. “This is a constant government problem, and an unwillingness on the employer’s part to consult with the local union,” said Brecht. “If they had concerns, why didn’t they bring them to the table a year ago, and allow the front line workers to assist in finding resolutions.”
Refusing to accept the department’s decision, Brecht has been in contact with the property management company for the building in Vegreville that currently houses the CPC.
“The holding company is very interested in signing a new lease. They’re open to discussions on expansion at the current facility. There are other options available to keep these jobs in Vegreville that wouldn’t result in dismantling an entire community,” said Brecht. “There are empty buildings sitting in town that could accommodate an expansion. So why is this government unwilling to do the right thing?”
Perhaps the answer to that question is more political, and has less to do with Vegreville and more to do with the newly-won Liberal riding in Edmonton where the CPC is going to be relocated.
A campaign committee led by CEIU has been struck in an effort to force the government to overturn their decision. Vegreville is rallying together as well, looking to hire a full-time person to assist them with a campaign against the move. Union signs bearing the slogan ‘We are all Affected’ are already appearing in local businesses, on bumper stickers, and in private homes.
Originally created to combat against cuts made by the Conservative government, the union was able to recycle the campaign as the Liberals continue on the same trajectory. Member of Parliament for Lakeland, Shannon Stubbs, has expressed her outrage against this move multiple times during question period in the House of Commons. The local MLA, Jessica Littlewood, has also been circulating a petition around town, and brought her concerns forward to the Alberta Legislature, requesting information from the Minister of Labour, who is asking the Federal Government reconsider.
Mike Brecht encourages people to sign the online petition, or send an email to Immigration Minister John McCallum opposing the relocation of the CPC Vegreville office and calling for the Minister to reverse their decision.
Check the PSAC Vegreville website for updates.