A new fee for applicants to Manitoba's provincial nominee program continues to draw criticism of the Progressive Conservative government.
Approximately 20 protesters at the Manitoba legislature shouted "shame" at the government and likened the fee to a head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants to Canada more than a century ago.
The group was scheduled to meet this morning with Ian Wishart, Manitoba's minister of immigration and training, but the minister's office postponed the meeting until next week.
The changes to the program, which is intended to attract skilled workers and businesspeople to the province, are set to come into force on April 1.
That drew criticism from some of the attendees at the legislature this morning.
"I think it represents the aloofness of this government — the fact that they have this comfortable majority and they feel they can do whatever they want now," said University of Manitoba professor Henry Heller.
"They don't care what the citizens think or their response is."
The history professor called the $500 fee an "onerous weight" on applicants to the program, and said it would affect the number of people choosing to come to Manitoba over other provinces.
Protest organizer Lizeth Ardila says the imposition of a charge on applications is not in the best interests of Manitoba.
"Immigrants contribute economically and culturally to our province and we just think that it adds to the burden and is going to reduce the number of immigrants that want and are wishing to have a better life and come to the province," Ardila said.
The government defends the changes to the program, saying it will use the additional funds for language training and to help new arrivals find employment.
A statement from Wishart's office Friday blamed the former NDP government for a massive backlog of applications to the program, but says that's been whittled down to around 80 cases.
"Mismanagement of the program under the previous government resulted in a backlog of over 5,100 applications in April 2016, some dating as far back as 2013. We are pleased to confirm the backlog has been cleared," the statement reads.
A spokesperson for Wishart says B.C., Ontario, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island already have application fees for skilled workers.
"These provinces have not seen reduced application intakes," the spokesperson said.