POLITICS

Revised Canada Job Grant still puts training programs at risk

01/17/2014 12:05 EST | Updated 03/19/2014 05:59 EDT
The federal government may have shown some flexibility around the money provinces were required to match for the Canada Job Grant program but it has not budged on one of the main sticking points, which is a reduction in federal transfers, says Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Brad Duguid.

"We still remain very concerned that the federal government is still asking us to take – $300 million across the country and in Ontario alone $116 million – out of our programs that fund our most vulnerable workers to put towards this untested and untried Canada Job Grant," Duguid told CBC News in an interview Friday.

He will make Ontario's position known during a teleconference with his provincial and territorial counterparts today when they gather to discuss a revised proposal sent to them by Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney at the end of December.

The Canada Job Grant plan, as it was introduced in last year's federal budget, would have provided up to $15,000 per worker toward skills training to find a new or better job, with the provinces and employers matching the government's contribution of $5,000.

Kenney made a concession by offering to pay the provinces' share up to $10,000 of the job grant with employers kicking in the other $5,000.

"We're pleased the federal government has responded to make some changes. However, our major concerns in many cases are still very much left unaddressed," Duguid said.

That's because the revised offer doesn't compromise on one of the provinces main sticking points, which is a reduction in federal transfers.

The provinces currently receive $500 million a year in funding from Ottawa for training underrepresented groups, under existing Labour Market Agreements that are set to expire on March 31. The Canada Job Grant program would see the provinces lose close to $300 million or nearly 60 per cent of Ottawa's contribution through the agreements.

"In effect, many of those training programs would have to be eliminated likely altogether if this would go forward as it is," Duguid said.

'Marginal' flexibility

Furthermore, the provinces will not get the degree of flexibility they thought they would have in the way existing federal funds can be used to train unemployed Canadians.

It was believed the provinces would have been able to divert federal money from a fund used to train unemployed Canadians, who are eligible for employment insurance, and use it to train low-skilled workers looking to enter the workforce.

But that no longer appears to be the case, Duguid said. 

"We have confirmed with the federal government that no, we will not have the flexibility of covering in Ontario's case that $116 million through the Labour Market Development Agreement as oppose to the Labour Market Agreement."

"The areas of flexibility they've talked about so far are extremely marginal and not particularly helpful. That is something that is certainly up for discussion," Duguid said.

Today's call will be an opportunity for the provinces and territories to gauge how far apart they still are with the federal government on the controversial Canada Job Grant program.

P.E.I.'s Minister of Innovation and Advanced Learning Allen Roach told CBC News in an interview on Thursday that the provinces and territories will be discussing the impact of the cuts to their funding.

"We'll be discussing each and every one of those points and seeing whether we feel it's moved far enough," Roach said.

"Once we finish that call, then we'll be in a better position, as one voice, to get back to Minister Kenney and give him our feedback, which he is waiting for."