Town of McLennan businesses applying for help to complete the necessary requirements to participate in the Rural Renewal Stream of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program will no longer be getting no help from Smoky River Regional Economic Development (SRRED).
Economic development officer Diane Chiasson and board member Robert Brochu attended council’s July 10 meeting to deliver the news.
The decision to no longer help McLennan businesses was made by the SRRED board after McLennan pulled out of the organization and no longer provides funding. When the project was applied for and approved, McLennan was part of SRRED.
The program is designed to attract immigrants to help local businesses fill job vacancies in rural regions.
Chiasson told council about one-third of the customers were from McLennan. She suggested a fee for service option to the board to continue service to McLennan but the board declined.
Chiasson added it “broke her heart” to not help a recent applicant from McLennan.
She added she believed people would move to the region because of the program.
“This program is serving us very, very well,” said Brochu.
“It’s time consuming but it’s very, very good.”
Big Lakes County and the Town of High Prairie were at first very supportive of the program when proposed last fall but have since pulled out. At Big Lakes’ June 16 meeting, Brett Hawken, director of community and protective services, told council administra- tion has discovered the roles and responsibilities of the program are beyond their capacity.
“Unfortunately, it has been determined that the workload described in the June 8 request for decision is not the reality of the time committed to manage the program and the workload has increased tremendously due to the enormous amount of interest in the program.”
Hawken estimated the administrative role would require about 10-15 hours of work a week.
At the McLennan meeting, Councillor Sue Delaurier asked if the immigrants were using the program as a “stepping stone” to gaining citizenship status.
“If you keep one of out of 10, it’s a success,” replied Brochu.
It was the reason the Smoky River region recently held a supper for new arrivals, i.e., to make them feel welcome and at home. Twenty-eight attended.
McLennan pulled out of Smoky River Economic Development June 13, 2202. Cost to join at the time was $14,400 yearly.
Brochu made it clear the reason for Chiasson and him to attend the meeting was not to ask McLennan to rejoin, but rather to inform them of their decision to no longer provide service.
However, Chiasson added if McLennan chose to rejoin, to advise them as soon as possible so a proper agreement could be developed between all parties.
Meanwhile, Hawken did tell Big Lakes County there was value in the program but only if managed properly. He added 15 businesses – 12 in High Prairie and three in Big Lakes – were interested in the program.
Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk agreed the scope and cost of the program have grown.
“We’ve got to find a way to make this work and not cost ratepayers a lot and help businesses,” Panasiuk said.
by Chris Clegg