Crowsnest Pass to explore rural immigration initiatives

The Municipality of Crowsnest Pass is exploring rural immigration initiatives as a potential solution to the community’s labour shortage.

Council was asked to consider relevant economic opportunities following an addition to the Feb. 14 agenda by Mayor Blair Painter.

Painter said he’d heard from local merchants who’d recently scaled back their business hours owing to persistent staff shortages.

The Town of Claresholm and 10 other Canadian municipalities were selected to pilot the federal government’s Rural and Northern Immigration Program in 2020.

The program allows immigrants who land local jobs to apply for permanent residency based on the recommendation of participating communities. Brady Schnell, economic development officer for Claresholm, said the town’s economic development committee has recommended PR status for 46 hopeful immigrants in the last three years.

The province has since developed similar initiatives through its Alberta Advantage Immigration Program.

Crowsnest Pass councillors who spoke to the issue at chambers offered opinions ranging from enthusiastically eager to cautiously optimistic.

Painter noted that it takes time for municipalities to be approved for rural immigration programs of any stripe.

“If we decide to do this two years from now, we’ll be that much further behind,” he cautioned.

Coun. Dave Filipuzzi said the community had clearly registered a need for more workers and that council should look at rural immigration moving forward.

“I think this is a no-brainer,” he said. “Waiting is just going to prolong the problem.”

Coun. Lisa Sygutek urged the need for careful study, underlining the community’s long-standing housing crisis.

“This is the chicken or the egg,” she said. “We can bring in all the people in the world, but what’s the point if they’re gonna have nowhere to live?”

Coun. Dean Ward agreed.

“Sometimes we dive into things before we do our homework. I’d like to see administration come back to us with what it’s all about,” he said.

Coun. Vicki Kubik called for “outside-the-box” housing solutions along the lines of a community home-share program where residents could billet or rent to employed newcomers.

Council then unanimously passed a motion by Ward directing administration to explore the “opportunities and requirements” of the federal and provincial initiatives.

Laurie Tritschler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze