Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Stand Up for Vegreville... Stand up for Rural Canada

Decisions and Outcomes

My first principalship was in an elementary school in Vegreville.  I was there for three years and moved for the beginning of this school year.  I commuted to Vegreville from Sherwood Park for the 3 years I was there, just about a one hour drive.  Prior to being a principal in Vegreville, I was a manager for Alberta Education in downtown Edmonton, needless to say it was a big change.  I assumed I was going to help out a school and community, but in so many ways the reverse happened - and I really grew to appreciate an amazing rural town.  It was a major decision in my career to be the principal in a school in Vegreville, and the outcomes for me professionally and personally were fantastic.

A number if weeks ago, the Federal government announced that they are moving the Vegreville Immigration office (Case Processing Centre) to Edmonton, see the news story here.  Its a big deal in Vegreville, because the town is about 5800 people and this centre employs 280 of mostly locals, which makes it one of Vegreville's largest employer.  That will mean a loss of 280 jobs, a huge hit on the real estate market, and pressure on other businesses.  The 280 jobs are middle class jobs too - well paying with good benefits and job security.   Losing these local jobs will have a devastating impact on the local economy - as the town Mayor and many other local business owners and community members have stated since this announcement.

The School Bell Rings

In addition to losing 280 great jobs in the town, there is another major impact to the local schools. If those 280 people take the relocation offer and move to the new office in Edmonton, the schools will see a bog drop in their enrolment.  It has been estimated that may be as many as 25% of the student population are from families who have parents employed at the CPC.  As student enrolment decreases in the local schools, teachers and other school staff jobs will likely be lost as a result.  The move of the Immigration Centre that means so much to a small town will have a huge impact, and the big city that will receive those jobs will barely notice.  It does not seem like a wise decision to me, especially at a time when many people are suffering with a slower economic times as it is.

Lets Start with Why?

"The shift will offer proximity to universities, public transit, housing and career growth options that will make it easier to recruit qualified, bilingual workers", a spokeswoman wrote. - Edmonton Journal

Recruitment is an important part of any organization, and I can understand what is being shared in this statement.  But what is this organization losing on the other hand?  Many of their current employees will not move to Edmonton, because they have made roots in Vegreville.  For some of these employees their husbands are hard working farmers who contribute to our economic breadbasket of Canada, not to mention they teach the new principals from the city about harvest and seeding seasons!  Other employees will stay for the small rural town lifestyle that they have grown to appreciate.  But here is what I know for sure, losing many of the employees that will stay in Vegreville will be a have a huge impact on the work that the Immigration office does, and they will lose an important component of their teams.  The dedication and hard work of rural employees should not be underestimated, I saw it in the school staff that I supervised each day.  It will be a great loss on their offices to lose the talented staff that will not move to Edmonton - they will lose their work ethic, experience, and most importantly their rural perspective - a vital part of the fabric that is our Canadian identity.  Now the new office will need to increase their recruitment strategies to do their best to replace the people they couldn't retain with the move.  How ironic?

Lets Save our Pennies

I also wondered if this is a cost saving move, but that now seems to not be a motivational factor at all.  The leased space in Vegreville is a much better deal than anything in downtown Edmonton, not to mention the free parking (according to town officials).  Of course, there will be costs with moving too, as there is with any move.  There will also be new business cards to print with a new address and lots of changes to plan for.  Why would the government make a move like this when the economy is slow?  It will cost money to move and increase costs at the new location.  The impact will have a massive economic ripple in Vegrveille l town and leave less money available to help out in the aftermath, not that there has been any planning to help anyway.  All this being said, the Federal budget is our money, so should we not have say in how it is spent?  I think many Canadians would prefer a more prudent use of our tax dollars at a time like this anyway.  If recruitment is the issue, maybe it would be wiser spend a little on some recruitment strategies instead of moving the entire office of 280 employees?

Do Your Homework

I havent read anywhere about the research that the government completed to look into the results of the move and the impact to the town or the business model being used.  According to officials, they did not do a cost analysis nor an economic impact study of the move, and did not consult with locals prior to announcing the decision.  Did they do this work and not share it, or did they just not bother?  Being a principal, I often have to make tough decisions - especially when dealing with budget restraints and many needs in a school.  To make the best decision possible, I annually collect data from all key stakeholders - students, parents, staff and the community when possible.  Then I share the collected data with others to build a possible solution.  Although, not all will agree to what was decided, I can confidently say that it was done in the best interests of all involved and I can share how the decision came to be.  In the case of the relocation of the Immigration office, it does not seem that this process happened.  The way it was presented was a complete surprise to local officials If the government could show us the pathway they took to conclude a relocation was the best choice for all involved, it may help us better understand and accept this decision.

What can we do?

Well we can start by signing Member of Parliament Shannon Stubbs petition here

You can also watch MP Shannon Stubbs presentation of the this issue to the Minister of Immigration in her Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/ShannonLakeland/

Lets stand up for Vegreville and let the Federal government hear your voice in keeping 280 well paying, secure position in Veg.   This is important to the overall health and vibrancy of a fantastic town and its other business and schools.  This move will have a detrimental impact on the community and we can work together to avoid such a loss.  Write your MP, sign the petition and stand up for Vegreville... stand up for rural Canada.

Joe Dumont     Twitter: @principaldumont