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Ont. job seekers look west for work as Sask. premier recruits in Toronto

What do an unemployed coffee shop waitress, a laid-off truck driver and a recently certified welder have in common?

What do an unemployed coffee shop waitress, a laid-off truck driver and a recently certified welder have in common?

They are all from southern Ontario, they are all looking for work, and they are all considering a move to Saskatchewan to find it.

Desperate job seekers lined up in droves Wednesday at a Toronto job fair that had a high-profile visitor: Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

At a time when other provinces are seeing massive layoffs, analysts forecast job growth in Saskatchewan this year.

The message is one Wall is keen to spread in hard-hit Ontario; it's the Prairie politician's second visit to Toronto in six months to recruit workers to his booming province.

Wall had a captive audience. Thousands of people lined up at the downtown convention centre for the career fair, which was full of Saskatchewan employers.

For Robert Smith, a truck driver who's been laid off since November, it doesn't take a visit from the premier to convince him to move west.

"That's where the jobs seem to be," said Smith, 59. "There's nothing here anymore."

The small trucking company Smith worked for once employed 10 drivers. It's down to two people, he said.

"That's it. He had to lay all of us off because there's just no work. He can't get any contracts to keep the people working."

Preston Newman, 40, a recently certified welder, has been looking for work for six months without any luck. Newman has considered leaving his wife behind in Toronto to move to Saskatchewan.

"If I have to do it to make the money, I will have to do it," he said.

"I will send her the money."

Saskatchewan has added appeal for Newman because the provincial government recently changed a tuition rebate program to include recent graduates from out-of-province.

Under the plan, some graduates can receive up to $20,000 in tax rebates over seven years.

Wall and the delegation made a point of highlighting the program Wednesday by stopping at Toronto's Ryerson University.

Robin Bates, 24, plans to cash in on the rebate. The Ryerson student recently accepted a job as a public health inspector on a Saskatchewan First Nation.

"It's really not that big a deal. People have to move. You have to get that experience," said Bates.

Theiesa Wu, 29, was laid-off four weeks ago from her job in a Toronto coffee shop. Her sights are set on a customer service position, and if it comes in Saskatchewan, she'll take it.

"I don't care. If I get a very good opportunity, I will move there," said Wu.

Still, the promise of work in the West isn't enough to convince some people to move.

Greta Francis worked as an administrative assistant for more than 20 years before getting laid off two years ago.

"I am a Toronto girl. I can't see me picking up," said Francis, who declined to give her age. "At this point in my life, no."

Leading up to the two-day visit from the Saskatchewan delegation, which included Regina Mayor Pat Fiacco and Saskatoon Mayor Donald Atchison, Ontario's opposition parties accused the western province of "poaching" the best and brightest.

Although the Prairie politicians say they don't like the term, they also wouldn't apologize for their efforts. For decades, people from Saskatchewan moved to other parts of Canada, especially Ontario, said Wall.

"We've been very generous with sharing our citizens with the rest of our country; we'd like them to come home," he said.

 
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