OTTAWA - The federal government will tinker with unemployment programs in Thursday's budget to better match pools of eager workers with companies struggling with labour shortages.
But the new measures are not expected to come near meeting the demands of some provinces who have long felt disadvantaged by the federal system.
The new measures will create a more formal relationship between local availability of skilled-yet-jobless workers and a company's access to temporary foreign workers, federal sources say.
The package will also give a boost to retraining, and improve job vacancy information for Canadians looking for work.
The aim is to push employers to fill their labour needs by hiring locally first, rather than looking overseas to fill their vacancies.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley recently took the Nova Scotia government to task for doing just that — angling for temporary foreign workers instead of drawing from the pool of 42,000 unemployed Nova Scotians to build ships.
"Our government believes it is important to find the right people with the right skills to do the work," she said in a speech in Halifax.
"We also know that those workers can be found in Nova Scotia and our first priority is linking the 42,000 Nova Scotians looking for work with the shipbuilding jobs that are available.
"If they do not have the skills needed for the shipbuilding jobs, we should help them get the skills they need."
Recent research by Statistics Canada shows unemployed people outnumber the amount of job vacancies by a ratio of three to one. While there are some industries that have pockets of labour shortages, generally, there is a surplus of workers and not enough jobs to go around.
Ontario, Quebec and many economists and experts are urging much broader changes to Canada's Employment Insurance system than what is expected in the budget.
In its provincial budget this week, the Ontario government reiterated its long-standing argument that taxpayers and unemployed people in the province are getting ripped off by the federal arrangements.
Ontarians contribute 40 per cent of the premiums flowing into EI, but receive just 33 per cent of the benefits, the budget says.
Just 30.6 per cent of Ontario's unemployed receive benefits, compared with 49.2 per cent in the rest of the country. As a result, many people have no access to retraining programs linked to EI.
"The federal government must do more to improve the fairness and transparency of the Employment Insurance system," says the provincial budget.
The Ontario government devotes a chapter to attacking the federal government's transfer system, pointing out what it views as dysfunctional Ottawa funding for health care, labour training, immigration settlement, police services, and the huge costs related to the federal tough-on-crime agenda.
The federal program delivers richer benefits to areas of high unemployment, favouring the East over Central Canada and the West. But voters have punished Ottawa's attempts to reform the system in the past.
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