FREDERICTON - The federal minister responsible for the Canada Job Grant says he accepts that the provinces don't have the ability to match Ottawa's funding under the program and is trying to find a solution.
"They have made clear that they would not be in a position to match the federal contribution towards that," Jason Kenney, the minister of employment and social development, said Wednesday. "I completely understand that and I have accepted that in our revised offer."
Kenney said he can't go into detail because discussions with the provinces about the program are ongoing, but he is cautiously optimistic an agreement can be reached with his provincial and territorial governments before the plan is scheduled to go into effect April 1.
"I think we're making progress. We have been demonstrating a lot of flexibility on our part."
He also said Canadian employers are not spending enough on skills development for workers and he wants them to change that.
"We want to see training that leads to actual employment and we want to see employers put more skin in the game," he said.
Kenney said he's prepared for the federal government to go it alone on the job grant but Ottawa's preference is to work with the provinces.
New Brunswick Premier David Alward said he hopes the program would lead to more jobs in the province and reduce the number of New Brunswick residents who seek employment in northern Alberta.
"We need to ensure that this is not training for the sake of training in any way," Alward said. "We need to make sure our people have the right skills to meet the needs of the job market going forward."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she's pleased that Kenney wants to bring more flexibility to the proposed job-training program.
Wynne said that while there are still issues to be discussed, she is grateful there's been movement by Ottawa.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall called the federal concessions a "step in the right direction" but said talks with Ottawa on the program are continuing.
Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner said there have been problems with the program right from the start.
"When you throw these things out and try to ram it down the throats of the provinces, you are off on the wrong foot," Cuzner said.
"Had there been 300 million new dollars put into this, then I think it would have had a chance of getting going. But when you're robbing from programs that were fairly effective ... you set yourself up for failure."
A government official says no new federal cash is being committed to the program.
Under the original proposal, the government would have issued $15,000 grants to eligible Canadians, with the cost divided three ways between Ottawa, the provinces and interested employers. The goal is to compel employers to train their future and current workers, and to encourage provinces to focus on training that will result in actual employment.
Now, Ottawa is offering to cover the provincial share to bring its own contribution up to $10,000 per grant. Stakeholders say that means the number of grants will be reduced, lessening the impact of the program, because the federal government isn't offering up any additional funds.
"We are saddened that the provinces may not participate in the program but are pleased to see that the federal government is still moving ahead, although the number of people that will be helped and trained will be cut due to the lack of co-operation," said Serge Buy, the head of the National Association of Career Colleges.