POLITICS

Provinces meet to discuss federal skills training program

09/24/2013 02:54 EDT | Updated 11/24/2013 05:12 EST
Provincial and territorial labour ministers are gathering in Toronto today to discuss the federal government's $900-million Canada Job Grant program, which was announced in the federal budget in March.

The meeting is being led by B.C.'s Shirley Bond and New Brunswick's Danny Soucy, who until last week's cabinet shuffle in the province was the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour.

The provinces have complained that they were not consulted on the new program, which replaces current labour market agreements between Ottawa and the province that provide federal job-training funds.

At their summer meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., a few weeks ago, premiers and territorial leaders presented a united front against the new federal jobs training program.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, as the chair of the Council of the Federation, said the program is "not going to work the way it is" and instructed British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and New Brunswick Premier David Alward to study the Canada Job Grant program and report back in the fall.

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Clark did not mince her words this summer saying that Jason Kenney, the new minister of employment and social development, needed "to fix it."

The Canada Job Grant program is intended to provide skills training for up to 130,000 Canadians looking for jobs by offering a grant of up to $15,000 to employers to train each employee.

The cost of training each worker wold be shared equally between Ottawa, the province or territory, and the employer.

The provinces currently get $300 million from the federal government under Labour Market Agreements that are set to expire next year.

The new program would cut into those transfers, something the provinces have denounced as another way the federal government is intruding into provincial jurisdiction.

The federal plan will go into effect in April 2014.​

Two weeks ago, federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch met with her provincial and territorial counterparts in Saskatoon for the first time since being appointed to the new post.

The meeting came less than six weeks after changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program came into effect on July 31.

The changes put the onus on the employers to prove the need to hire a temporary foreign worker over a Canadian employee.

Several provinces complained that the federal government isn't sharing the data behind the program making it difficult for them to know who the temporary foreign workers are or what employers they are working for.

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In an interview with CBC News, Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi said "we need to know who the employers are, who the employees are, where they are working so we have an opportunity to apply our health and safety, and employment rights legislation in a pro-active fashion."

"Both those legislation apply to temporary foreign workers and we want to make sure that the law is being abided by and that the health and safety of those workers, and employment rights of those workers are also protected."

Naqvi said other provinces also backed Ontario's push for more information.

"Provinces like Quebec, British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan also want this information," Ontario's labour minister said.

While there was no firm commitment on the part of Leitch, Naqvi described the meeting as "amicable" saying the federal labour minister was "open" to further changes and showed a "willingness" to look into the matter.

Naqvi said while Ontario's complaints are not new, he wants to give the new minister some time before following up with her but he will not wait until next year's meeting for an update.

"I'll be following up sooner rather than later," Naqvi said.

"By working closely together on shared issues, we can ensure that Canada remains competitive on a domestic and global scale as we address the reality of the modern workforce," Leitch said in a written news release after the meeting.

The meeting also focused on co-operation agreements, pension reform, and the Wage Earner Protection Program which Ontario would like to see the federal government amend.

The annual meeting was co-hosted by Don Morgan, the minister of labour relations and workplace safety for Saskatchewan.