Provencher candidates squared off in Steinbach Wednesday to voice their opinions in front of voters.

The Steinbach Chamber of Commerce held a forum, attended by four of the five candidates. The only candidate who did not accept the invitation was NDP Erin McGee.

The Chamber of Commerce put together a series of questions. One of those questions had to do with immigration, asking candidates what changes, initiatives or policies their party would implement to support immigration moving forward.

"The PPC recognizes the benefit that immigrants bring to our country," says People's Party of Canada candidate Wayne Sturby. "Our country was founded on immigrants coming here."

But, Sturby says there was a big difference in the 1800's and 1900's, when people arrived from Europe, Asian and Africa to settle the land and build a nation.

"They came to make a home, they came to unite behind a central idea of what Canada was going to become," he says. "They worked very, very hard to make sure that Canada became that, it became their home."

Sturby says his party is not anti-immigrant, as their opponents are portraying them to be. But he says a sensible immigration policy needs to be put in place.

"We want to make sure that we don't have this open door policy, where we're not prepared to find out exactly who is coming across our borders and for what reason," says Sturby.

He notes as a nation we need to make sure that those coming across are not simply taking advantage of hardworking Canadians.

"We don't throw caution to the wind," he says. "We all have doors, we all have fences, we want to make sure that our homes are a place of refuge for our families first and that's all we're asking to make sure that Canada is."

"We do not have an open door policy of just letting anybody in the country," says Liberal candidate Trevor Kirczenow.

According to Kirczenow, Canada has a legal responsibility to assist asylum seekers. He adds when someone comes across the border, proper protocol is followed. Kirczenow says while door knocking in Emerson, not one resident mentioned any sort of safety concerns in connection to all the refugees that had crossed into Canada there.

"The response I got was that it was laughable that this was turned into this huge dramatic international issue," he says.

Kirczenow says Canadian farmers lost $2.9 billion in 2018 due to a lack of labour. He notes immigration is key to help fill those gaps and the Liberal party believes in a modest increase in immigration numbers to address this problem.

"Refugees have already been starting to help fill the farm labour gap in some rural areas," he says. "There are some programs in place that have been beginning to work with this."

Green Party candidate Janine Gibson says we should find out from people who are applying to move to Canada, what their skills and interests are in agriculture. She says if that is done early on in the process, our nation can more effectively place them in communities where their skills can be developed and integrated into the kind of agricultural production that is happening in that region.

"I've spoken with refugees and immigrants who found it difficult, many who appreciate the opportunity but found it difficult to get into agriculture," says Gibson. "I think that the structure of placement and supports could be improved so that integration is more easily made."

Gibson says another issue surrounding immigrants is mental health supports. She notes with all the trauma in the world, many people come to Canada still dealing with the residual trauma.

"Addictions issues should be seen as mental health issues and not as criminal issues," says Gibson. "There needs to be far more support."

Gibson says she believes support needs to be as available to immigrants as to the rest of Canadians.

"Those are very important supports that could facilitate the integration and the effective role that immigrants play in developing our economy and our communities," she says.

And finally, Conservative candidate Ted Falk says his party absolutely believes in immigration, referring to it as vital to the continued growth of Canada's economy. But he says immigration needs to be legal, fair and compassionate.

According to Falk, 45,000 migrants have entered Canada illegally. He says that costs our federal government $1.6 billion.

"That could have been redirected to social programs, to our seniors, to other initiatives, could have been used to actually balance the budget," says Falk. "Instead we are spending 1.6 billion dollars, we're giving them health care and dental and living allowances that are much more generous than our Canadians get."

Falk says Andrew Scheer has committed to closing the gap and the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement.

"When our system is clogged up with illegal migrants, that doesn't allow our bureaucrats to process people that are languishing in refugee camps, in war-torn countries that need the generosity of this country to relocate, to make a fresh start in life," he says.

Falk adds Canada has a compassionate component to the immigration system and as Conservatives they will make sure there is room for people that need a place to make a new start.

(Wayne Sturby, Trevor Kirczenow, Janine Gibson and Ted Falk)

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Provencher Candidates Square Off Wednesday Night