UCP Leader Jason Kenney in a Postmedia file photo.
Jason Kenney says a United Conservative government would launch an immigration plan that attracts newcomer entrepreneurs to rural Alberta in order to get “the best bang for the buck” on who settles in the province.
“We need to use the power of immigration as one strategy to restore investor confidence and to build new businesses,” he told reporters Monday in Chestermere, where he announced the broad intentions of his “Alberta advantage immigration strategy.”
The federal government makes final decisions on immigration applications, but provinces have a say on how immigrants are recruited through agreements with Ottawa.
Part of the UCP plan would include pairing communities with immigrants who want to own and manage businesses in small towns. Under the rural entrepreneur immigration program, there would be a set of criteria immigrants would have to meet tied to things such as net worth and investments.
Rural communities are facing population stagnation and decline, Kenney said.
“This is exacerbated by many older business owners not having interested buyers to take over their businesses,” he said. “When the owner of the local hardware store in a small town decides to retire and no one buys it, that hardware store is not coming back.”
Under the program, immigrants would commit to be “active, local operators” and have at least a 51 per cent stake in their business, Kenney said.
“If they have shown good faith effort to start a small business, we would grant them permanent residency, which is the next step towards citizenship.”
In B.C., a regional pilot program for entrepreneur immigration stipulates that candidates settle in communities with fewer than 75,000 people, have a minimum personal net worth of $300,000 and a minimum of $100,000 in eligible business investments. They must also create at least one new job and conduct an exploratory visit to the community.
Kenney said the UCP would set aside 500 immigration certificates for rural entrepreneurs in the first year, which would translate to about 2,000 people moving to rural areas. That assumes each certificate supports a four-person family on average.
In 2018, Alberta had 5,600 provincial nomination certificates.
“Within that allotment we are trying to get the best bang for the buck that we possibly can,” Kenney said.
Labour Minister Christina Gray said Kenney didn’t do his homework and failed to take into account dramatic changes the NDP has made since 2015.
“He was talking about the program that we inherited from the conservatives … that left people waiting in queue for one to two years,” she said, adding people are now often processed in two months.
Changes have included gaining access to the express entry system which tends to attract high-skilled immigrants with foreign training credentials, she said.
“The department does do reviews of other programs and what’s happening,” Gray said. “Talking to newcomers here, we’ve always heard very strong concerns about people buying their way to the front of the immigration queue.”
A second part of the UCP strategy, dubbed the rural renewal program, would grant immigrants sponsored by a community extra points in the express entry immigration system and speed up processing under the nominee program, Kenney said.