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City to continue RRS as neighbours put it on pause

July 11, 2024

By: Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative

The City of Grande Prairie is continuing with the Rural Renewal Stream (RRS) even as surrounding communities pause the program. 

The RRS is meant to attract workers to rural areas where workforce shortages exist; the program recruits workers across Canada and internationally. 

“From our perspective, we are pretty proud to be the second community and the largest community given the allocation to be able to facilitate the (RRS), and council sees value in this program as we hear regularly from employers that are faced with labour shortages,” said City of Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton. 

Mayor Jackie Clayton. (File Photo by Jesse Boily)

“We've decided to continue with the program. 

“We have had conversations with the provincial government in finding efficiencies and streamlining it.”

Still, the County of Grande Prairie said the program faces “significant challenges.”

A county report says limited housing, lack of affordable living options and strained community resources are among its challenges in rural communities. 

“We’re hopeful that we can address the issues with the province and continue to see success in the program,” said county Planning and Development Services General Manager Nick Lapp.

It’s a process

Workers apply for the desired job as they usually would. 

After a job offer is made, the employer will apply for a letter of endorsement from the host municipality on behalf of the worker. 

The endorsement letter is then sent to the worker, who can apply for a provincial nomination and gain permanent residency quicker than other means. 

Since its launch in 2022, the county and its partners have endorsed 55 employers and written about 114 letters which, according to Lapp, resulted in about 100 hires. 

In the city, it has endorsed 412 employers and written 742 letters but says the number of hires is hard to determine.

“It's important to note that some of those endorsement letters may have been revoked from the employer if the candidate doesn’t work out or if the candidate was still overseas and not able to receive a work permit,” said Rebecca Dodd, the city’s economic development director. 

“From the time the candidate receives the endorsement letter until permanent residency can be a very long process, especially if they are still overseas. 

“We are working with our partners at the province as well as the city’s Community Social Development team to develop tracking and follow up to understand exactly how many of those endorsement letters result in positions filled.”

She noted that endorsement letters issued to candidates already in Grande Prairie with valid work permits have been in high demand. 

The county partnered with the towns of Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Wembley and the Village of Rycroft to offer the RRS. The partnership comes from trying to have smaller communities participate in the RRS without having additional administrative work. 

This spring, the county received letters of support from the towns to pause the RRS and at the June 24 council meeting, county council decided to pause the program.

Additional challenges the county noted in its report include companies requesting numerous endorsement letters beyond their staffing needs because of staff turnover or delays in newcomer arrivals; municipalities not being equipped to provide legal, immigration, or housing advice; additional strains on vital resources such as healthcare, social services, education, housing and newcomer services. 

Dodd said the province is making some changes to help combat some of the issues, such as employers utilizing the RRS must actively own and operate a business in the community they are applying in within the last two years. 

“This is to ensure the employer is able to provide stable, reliable employment for the candidates through their permanent residency process and beyond,” said Dodd. 

“Therefore, while it is not an immediate benefit for new businesses coming in, it is another important tool available to them to ensure a sustainable workforce.”

Rental vacancy in the city is about one per cent, but Mayor Clayton said that many employers own homes for workers.

“Could there be more people moving to Grande Prairie if there was more vacancy, absolutely, but we're still willing to work with employers that have that capacity to find them employees for their organization,” said Clayton.

“Once we see more multi-family and accommodation available in our community, I would think that there will be an increased uptake in the program.”

Dodd said that to be approved for the program, employers must undergo a rigorous program that “includes ensuring they have considered housing availability for their future employees before beginning the recruitment process.”

She also noted that being a mid-sized city, it is equipped with the amenities to support the program. 

In 2023, city administration told the News a significant challenge with the RRS was that no financial support is available to municipalities providing the program, which adds strain to municipalities' administration as it looks to implement a program. 

The county report also notes that the federal government has set immigration at less than 10,000 for the province, and the RRS is one of many other streams to enter the country with newcomer support. 

With files from Austin Payeur