01/15/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 03/16/2014 05:59 EDT

Provinces To Discuss Jason Kenney's Revised Canada Job Grant Plan


Provincial and territorial ministers responsible for overseeing the controversial Canada Job Grant program will hold a teleconference call late Wednesday to discuss the federal government's revised plan scheduled to come into force on April 1st, CBC News has learned.

A revised proposal of the grant plan sent by Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney landed on their desks at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve after much back and forth since their last face-to-face meeting in Toronto.

"We have received the federal government’s new jobs grant proposal," Theresa Oswald, Manitoba's minister of jobs and the economy, told CBC News in an email on Tuesday.

"We are thoroughly reviewing its potential impact on Manitoba’s job market and economy," Oswald said.

Other provinces contacted by CBC News were also in the process of costing out what the new proposal will mean for them but were tight-lipped on the details.

At stake is $500 million a year in funding the provinces receive from Ottawa under existing Labour Market Agreements that are set to expire on March 31.

Under the original Canada Job Grant plan, which the government announced in the last federal budget, the provinces would have to foot $300 million or nearly 60 per cent of Ottawa's contribution to the existing agreement.

With a few weeks left before the current agreements expire and a new grant plan comes into effect, not to mention a federal budget which could come in February, there is little doubt from the provinces that Kenney has engaged in the process every step of the way.

For its part, Ottawa feels it has made headway with the provinces. 

"We have had very constructive discussions with the provincial governments on the creation of the Canada Job Grant and have made a lot of progress," a senior federal government official told CBC News on Tuesday.

Closing the funding gap

However, Ontario's Brad Duguid, minister of training, colleges and universities, who said in November the provinces were hoping to see the government find another source of funding for the grant plan, will be disappointed to learn Kenney did not find new money for the program.

CBC News has learned that when Kenney went to cabinet before Christmas to alter the Canada Job Grant, he did not seek approval for new federal funds.

It appears he did concede some flexibility to the provinces in the way existing federal funds can be used to train unemployed Canadians.

For instance, under the revised plan, provinces would be allowed to use federal money they receive to train unemployed Canadians who are eligible for employment insurance and use it to train low-skilled workers looking to enter the workforce.

But diverting federal funds from one pot of money, the Labour Market Development Agreements to the Labour Market Agreements, will still leave the provinces on the hook for the balance.

Each province and territory will have to decide whether that's an amount they can live without.

On Tuesday, Duguid felt that the Ottawa's offer would still have a negative effect on low-skilled aboriginal workers, immigrants, or people with disabilities who are unemployed and looking for work.

But Kenney has consistently said the federal government already funds training programs earmarked for aboriginal people and others who are under-represented in the workforce.

Quebec, which has publicly said it wants to opt out of the Canada Job Grant, was not aware of the government's new proposal when contacted by CBC News on Monday.

A spokesperson for Quebec's Labour Minister Agnès Maltais said in an email the province is only interested in renewing the existing labour market agreements. "Discussions between Quebec and the federal government continue," the spokesperson said.

Alberta, which has forecast a skills shortage of 114,000 workers by 2021, will be updating its numbers on Wednesday.

Those numbers are part of the reason why Alberta Premier Alison Redford shuffled her cabinet in December and in the process created a new ministry of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour headed by Thomas Lukaszu.

The federal government has said it is committed to addressing Canada's worker shortage, not just through the Canada Job Grant but also by reforming the apprenticeship system.

Kenney will be in New Brunswick on Wednesday, where he is expected to announce new measures to remove barriers that prevent young people from entering the workforce through apprenticeship programs in Atlantic Canada.

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