JOC ARCHIVES

February 26, 2014

Feds agree to two key provincial demands for job grant

The federal government has agreed to two key demands from the provinces and territories on its contentious Canada Job Grant, that could pave the way for a deal on the national job-training program.

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney sent the counter-proposal to his provincial and territorial counterparts addressing the primary obstacles to an agreement.

The offer states that the federal government “agrees with the main request by provinces and territories in their most recent offer and will allow maximum flexibility in the source of funding for the program.”

That means, essentially, that the provinces and territories can commit $300 million to the job grant from whatever federal funds they choose - or their own - in order to participate in the program. They had railed against being forced to use money from so-called labour-market agreements, the federal cash they insist provides job training to their most marginalized citizens.

Ottawa, meantime, will continue to transfer $2.1 billion a year in training-related funds to the provinces.

The counter-proposal reiterates that the provinces are not required to match Ottawa’s contribution, and that the provinces now have until July 1 to start delivering the Canada Job Grant, instead of the original April 1 deadline.

“The enclosed revised federal proposal should be considered final,” Kenney writes in his offer.

“I will require a response to the government of Canada’s offer no later than the end of this month. Otherwise, as I have stated previously, the government of Canada will deliver the Canada Job Grant on its own as of April 1, 2014.”

The provinces and territories received the counter-proposal last week.

Some provincial officials wouldn’t comment on the offer at all, but a statement from P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach was upbeat.

“After receiving the federal government’s response, I look forward to reviewing and discussing it with my provincial and territorial colleagues, and with our respective premiers,” said Roach.

“I want to thank minister Kenney for his ongoing engagement and collaboration on this file. I’d also like to thank my colleagues across the country for their leadership on this file, which has helped bring us to this point.”

Shirley Bond, B.C.’s labour minister, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that a deal was possible, but noted it would require a thorough review by the provinces.

“We need to do the analysis,” she said.

Jean-Thomas Grantham, spokesman for Quebec Employment Minister Agnes Maltais, said his province is still talking to Kenney. Quebec has been among the most vocal critics of the program, saying it wants to opt out.

“We still have the same stand: either we withdraw from the program with full compensation or we renew the (labour market agreements) purely and simply, with the criteria we had before,” he said.

If a deal is imminent, it would represent a significant feather in Kenney’s cap. The prospects of an agreement were bleak just a few months ago, when the provinces were united in opposition. But provincial officials conceded that Kenney, known as a Mr. Fix-It in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet, was conciliatory and respectful in subsequent negotiations, while he also managed to persuade the Conservative government to agree to <0x000A>concessions.

Kenney’s cabinet colleague, Jim Flaherty, took on a decidedly less diplomatic tone last week when he slammed the provinces for complaining about the job program.

“Job training in Canada is not provincial tax money, it’s federal tax money,” Flaherty said.

“And it’s not for a provincial government to tell the federal government how to spend federal tax money... The provincial governments have taxation powers; they can raise their own taxes.”

The Conservatives have <0x000A>been consumed with addressing a skills shortage in the country’s labour force that the Conference Board of Canada has called the biggest barrier to Canadian <0x000A>competitiveness.

The original Canada Job Grant proposal aimed to provide $15,000 per eligible worker, divided equally among Ottawa, the provinces and employers. In the face of the hue and cry from the provinces, Kenney then offered to cover the provincial portion of the grant, upping the federal share to $10,000.

Ottawa has been pushing employers to participate in training, as they did relatively robustly in the early 1990s. Since then, employer investment in training programs has decreased significantly.

“I encourage all provinces and territories... to make their training programs more employer-driven and more attuned to the realities of local labour markets,” Kenney wrote in his offer.

News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2014

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