Hon. Betty Unger: Senator Harder, I was disappointed with the replies that you gave to my questions last week about closing the Vegreville immigration Case Processing Centre. Your reply was, with all respect, nothing more than recycled Liberal talking points.
- You said that 20 per cent of available positions are currently vacant, and yet in three hiring drives, over 600 applications were received.
- You claimed that the current location does not have space for expansion. The town of Vegreville strongly disagrees with this analysis.
- You claimed that moving the centre to Edmonton would be cost efficient, and yet we know that it’s going to cost over $40 million to move the centre, and office space in Edmonton is far more expensive per square foot than it is in Vegreville.
- You implied that there was a problem with productivity at the centre and yet according to the immigration department’s own 2016 performance report the centre is extremely efficient, exceeding departmental targets.
None of the government’s excuses for closing the centre are adding up.
Why is the government intent on devastating Vegreville by removing its livelihood when the facts do not support the decision? Will you commit to speaking to the minister about reversing this devastating decision?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for her question. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that my lines are the lines of the Government of Canada. After all, that is my role on this as well as other issues on which questions are asked.
I want to repeat, therefore, that the government is making every effort to minimize the impact on staff and families. All employees, as the minister assured senators when he was here, can retain their jobs at the new location which is about one hour away.
I am told the reality is that approximately 20 per cent of available positions are currently vacant and the government feels it must address the long‑standing recruitment challenges, including the need for bilingual capacity, and the new location will allow the facility to expand its operations in Alberta to meet the growing demand to improve the quality of immigration services and address long processing times.
As the senators will know, the minister is engaged in meetings with the community, certainly the mayor, the local union representatives and the member of Parliament for Lakeland to discuss the government’s relocation case and would make the following point: The new case processing centre in Edmonton will allow the centre to double its capacity. This new location will allow the government to recruit and retain more employees as they expand the IRCC operations to meet the growing demand and address processing times. The relocation will also save money as the new office will be located within the Government of Canada’s existing property inventory.
The cost of remaining in the current location would be at least $35.8 million over a 25‑year life cycle in a location that does not meet current and future business requirements. This amount does not include the possible cost of increase to lease in Vegreville, nor does it take into account additional cost of bringing the current building to the required standard with increased capacity. In addition, remaining at the current location would require up to $3 million in necessary infrastructure upgrades to the facility.
I would want to underscore that workforce recruitment is an added impetus for this decision and point out that from October 2015 to September 2016 17 per cent of staff at the Vegreville centre have left the workforce. Additionally, 42 per cent of the remaining workforce in the CPC Vegreville will be reaching retirement age within the next five years. To date, recruitment efforts have been unsuccessful in filling the job vacancies and this has posed significant challenges, as one would expect, to maintaining operational standards in the facility.
It is with these business reasons that the government has come to this conclusion and I share them with you so that the obvious business drivers of this decision can be understood by all.