Gateway Gazette

Liberals Mislead Canadians: Closing Vegreville Office Will Cost More

Internal government documents show it will be considerably more expensive to shut down the Vegreville Immigration Case Processing Centre and to operate in Edmonton, despite the claims of Ministers, senior officials, and other Liberal MPs.

“This entire time, the current Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Infrastructure Minister, the former Immigration Minister and the former Parliamentary Secretary to Immigration, have gone on the record to say this is based on responsibility to the tax payer. But it’s not,” said Shannon Stubbs, MP for Lakeland.

The move will cost tax payers more, both in the short term and the long term. Over a 5 year period, the cost to the crown to move to Edmonton will be over $22 million dollars. To remain in Vegreville will cost $7 million, detailing a difference of almost $16 million—in just 5 years. Estimated fit up in Vegreville is $25,144 versus a cost of $4.9 million in Edmonton—a stark difference.

“During the past seven months, the Liberals changed answers and added excuses to justify this mistake.  But, one claim has remained the same, all along: they said it would be more cost effective and that it’s about respecting tax payer dollars. The MP for Edmonton Centre said ‘Canadians expect a Government to make responsible decisions on government spending…and that will ensure middle class tax dollars are spent on quality services…’ As recently as last week, on May 8th, Infrastructure Minister, Hon. Sohi, said the Liberals are closing the Vegreville office because they ‘want to be responsible for how they use taxpayers’ dollars. Both Hon. McCallum and Parliamentary Secretary Virani have said this will ‘save money.’ But Canadians now know: that’s been a lie the entire time,” said MP Stubbs.

Among their many claims about the closure, the Liberals are increasingly attacking the employees in Vegreville themselves.

“IRCC requires a more diverse workforce that can respond to new and increasingly complex demands,” said Minister Ahmed Hussen in a letter to NDP MPs Sheri Benson and Jenny Kwan. “We will need to recruit staff with a different skillset than previously required. IRCC will require persons with more advanced analytical skills and a broader appreciation of the complex decision-making required for this workload…”

But according to the latest available IRCC Performance Report for 2015-2016, the Vegreville CPC operates well above the Department’s service standard targets of 80%, at a processing rate of 93% of new applications and 97% of applications for extensions.

“Staff members in the Vegreville office have long done exemplary work, and are a model office, backing others up and outperforming counterparts across Canada.  Senior departmental officials even acknowledged that fact the day they announced the closure in a town hall with employees,” said MP Stubbs. “First, senior officials said no cost analysis was done, then Liberal MPs claimed this decision was based a strong business case when I asked them to justify it, and now it’s been revealed it will actually cost taxpayers more. On top of that, the Liberals are now doubling down on their attacks on the hard working employees of CPC Vegreville, but the Department’s own statistics show none of their cynical criticism of the employees’ performance is true either. Meanwhile, the Liberals still have never proven that additional positions or services can’t be done in Vegreville, or that the Vegreville office has to be closed in order to hire in Edmonton. This bad decision will cost Vegreville hundreds of jobs, and millions of dollars in GDP, labour income, and municipal revenue, never mind the major negative impacts on families, businesses, schools, and charities, and it will cost taxpayers millions more.  I don’t know how the Liberals can possibly spin that it’s necessary – or worth it.”

In a rare opportunity for a first term MP, Stubbs led off the Official Opposition’s leaders round in Question Period today to get more answers from the Liberals.

“Mr. Speaker this is all nonsense. Rural Liberal MPs, the NDP and Federal Public Service Workers everywhere should be outraged, because if this can be done to Vegreville, this can happen anywhere. The Liberals covered it up for months, falsely claimed staff are not up to the job and are devastating a small town in the process. How can Canadians possibly trust anything the Liberals say?”

Hon. Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety responded to Stubbs’ latest questions.

“The decision relates to expanding the capacity of the immigration system in Alberta. It is about growth. That is the issue at stake here. The difficult reality at the present location is a 20% staff vacancy rate. The new location will help expand capacity, improve recruitment, shorten wait times and upgrade services in and for the province of Alberta.”

Since 2013, the Government of Canada did 6 staffing campaigns for IRCC offices: Three were specific to CPC Vegreville, one for Vegreville and Ottawa, and the other two for all offices across Canada. For the Vegreville specific campaigns, 664 applications total were received.

“The decision to close the office in Vegreville does not make any sense, and will harm a whole rural community. And, all for what? The addition of 32 new positions which both the town and the landlord said could be accommodated in Vegreville? Or which could have been placed in Edmonton at any time?”

The CPC Vegreville is a major processing and administrative centre for Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada in western Canada. It is not a front line, walk in, customer service office. It’s a hub in the Department, and employees are cross trained to back up other case processing centres across the country regularly.

“The Liberals have been misleading the people of Vegreville and all Canadians. Prime Minister Trudeau visited Vegreville in 2013 on his leadership tour and said ‘this country is not about picking and choosing the areas that you think you might be popular in. It’s about connecting and building a broad sense of where this country needs to go.’ On Wednesday, which he recently declared to be a day he would answer all questions, I asked him to get the current Minister to reverse his predecessor’s mistake.  The current Parliamentary Secretary just answered with criticism of the workers in Vegreville.  The Liberals are all talk, and they keep pitting rural and urban communities against each other, and removing the exact kind of federal public service jobs that are actually sustainable in rural communities like Vegreville. The Liberals show once again they don’t care about rural Canadians,” said MP Stubbs.

 

Transcript—Shannon Stubbs, MP and Hon. Ralph Goodale Question Period May 18th, 2017

Mrs. Shannon Stubbs (Lakeland, CPC): Mr. Speaker, many Liberals claim, closing the Vegreville Immigration office is to “manage middle-class taxpayer dollars responsibly”, and to “spend tax dollars wisely”, and to “save money”.

Yesterday, Global News exposed all that was a massive Liberal deception. The facts reveal this cold-hearted decision will actually cost taxpayers millions.

The minister can fix his predecessor’s mistake. Will he reverse it now?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, sadly, about 20% of the available positions at the current location are vacant. The move will address the staffing challenge and allow for an expansion of immigration operations and create additional jobs for Alberta.

In fact, the new centre will accommodate 312 employees, and will effectively double the capacity of the existing system.

We recognize the relocation has an impact upon staff and family, and we will continue to make every effort to minimize those impacts.

Mrs. Shannon Stubbs (Lakeland, CPC): Mr. Speaker, this is actually all nonsense. Just last week, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities claimed that the Liberals are closing the office because they “want to be responsible for how they use taxpayers dollars”, but Canadians now know the truth.

Rural Liberal MPs, the NDP and federal public service workers everywhere should be outraged, because if this can be done to Vegreville, this can happen anywhere.

The Liberals covered it up for months, falsely claimed staff are not up to the job and are devastating a small town in the process.

How can Canadians possibly trust anything the Liberals say?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the decisions relate to expanding the capacity of the immigration system in Alberta. It is about growth. That is the issue at stake here.

At the present location, there is a–

Some hon. members: Oh, oh.

The Speaker: The idea of question period is not for everyone to talk at the same time. It is to have questions and people to listen to the question, to have answers, and people to listen to the answers, whether they like them or not, whether they are satisfied with them or not, the deal is that we listen. The hon. Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has the floor.

Hon. Ralph Goodale: Mr. Speaker, the immigration issues in Alberta are all about growth and expansion. The difficult reality at the present location is a 20% staff vacancy rate. The new location will help expand capacity, improve recruitment, shorten wait times and upgrade services in and for the province of Alberta.

The new jobs will be created, and every current employee will be guaranteed a job at that new location, about an hour away.

Mrs. Shannon Stubbs (Lakeland, CPC): Mr. Speaker, this is about the eighth different excuse in the last seven months about why this is happening, but let us be clear about what is happening.

The minister is spending millions of tax dollars to shut this office down in a small town represented by a Conservative and moving jobs to a vulnerable Liberal riding.

It is unbelievable. My constituents should not have to pay for it, and neither should taxpayers. The Liberals are not saving money. They are wasting millions and they are attacking rural Canadians like always.

How can this minister live with himself?

Hon. Ralph Goodale (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, growth presents challenges, and the fact of the matter is, with the growing population in Alberta and the growing attraction to Alberta of new immigrants wanting to go to that part of the country, immigration services in and for the province of Alberta need to be expanded.

That expansion is best accomplished in the new location where the number of employees will increase to 312, and the overall capacity of the system will in fact be able to accommodate the growth expected into the province of Alberta.

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