A year ago, the 2013 federal budget announced the Canada Job Grant. Without consultation, Ottawa took a long-standing federal-provincial skills training program, unilaterally altered it, and demanded that the provinces help pay for one-third of the cost, with the federal share of funding to come partly from defunding the existing federal-provincial program. The provinces screamed; Ottawa claimed to be surprised by this entirely predictable reaction.
A year later, and agreements on the Canada Job Grant have at last been reached, subject to some remaining ambiguity with Nova Scotia. After the budget’s slap in the face, the feds, led by Minister of Employment Jason Kenney, eventually showed an ability to compromise.
In part, the CJG is a response to a widespread recognition that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has grown too large, and that the “labour market opinions,” on which the hiring of foreign workers was based, were far from rigorous.
There was also a plausible impression that publicly funded training didn’t result in many actual jobs, and that a new program could be designed to match the learning of skills to the real needs of real businesses, who would promise to hire the trainees – with the help of federal-provincial-employer grants of up to $15,000.
The previous Labour Market Agreements program expired on Tuesday. The new CJG regime has an annual budget of $500-million, of which at least 40 per cent has to be “employer-driven,” including the actual grant part of the program. But the plan raised questions about just whether and where Canada has genuine skills shortages. The consensus is that the economy as a whole is not suffering from a skills deficit; unemployment is mostly about lack of jobs.
On Monday, B.C. Premier Christy Clark visited Ottawa. She agrees that there is no general labour shortage in Canada, but she believes that there will be a skills gap in liquefied natural gas, an industry in which she places very large hopes, and that the CJG could be helpful.
Nova Scotia, on the other hand, worries that few small and medium-sized businesses will contribute. Many critics share this view. Others warn that the program will needlessly subsidize employers, paying them to hire people they would have hired in any case.
Who’s right? Once it’s up and running, the new program needs to be carefully studied, to figure out whether the Canada Job Grant grants are leading to new training, and new jobs.