The provinces are gearing up to battle Ottawa this fall over the federal government’s signature skills-training program, with British Columbia’s Christy Clark and Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne hunkering down to plan strategy for the coming fight.
And in one of the sharpest criticisms yet of the Canada Jobs Grant, Ms. Clark said the program would simply “create more problems” than it solves if Ottawa rolls it out as it is currently planned.
The B.C. Premier’s essential contention is that the new grant would divert federal dollars from existing skills-training programs.
In a meeting with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board Tuesday, Ms. Clark argued that existing training programs in B.C. are doing fine as they are, and said that she was not completely certain what Ottawa hoped to achieve with the grant.
“We need to sit down with the federal government and better understand exactly what problems it is that they’d like to solve. I can only speak for British Columbia, but we have a really good record of success,” she said shortly before heading to a sit-down with Ms. Wynne, the Ontario Premier. “None of us want to create more problems, which is what the current model for the Canada Job Grant would do.”
The grant, unveiled in the federal budget earlier this year, would train workers for specific available jobs. The goal is to make sure training is better tailored to the needs of the work force. Under the proposed program, companies that need workers would apply to have people trained for the open positions. The company would pay one-third of the costs, with the other two-thirds borne equally by the provincial and federal governments.
The provinces, however, have fretted about finding the money to pay their share of the grant. They also fear the grant would mean losing federal funding for job programs that already exist.
So far, the federal government has left the door open to making changes to the grant. A spokeswoman for Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney said he would meet with his provincial and territorial colleagues this fall to talk about how to implement the program.
“Employers have been expressing frustration for some time that they are excluded from direct involvement in skills-training programs,” Alexandra Fortier wrote in an e-mail. “The Canada Job Grant responds to this request by employers. It will bring federal and provincial and territorial governments together with employers to invest in skills training for unemployed and underemployed Canadians so that they are qualified to fill the high-quality, well-paying jobs available.”
When Mr. Kenney does sit down for the meetings, he will find organized opposition. Ms. Clark and Ms. Wynne held a late afternoon tête-à-tête in the latter’s Queen’s Park office. A government source described the meeting as “productive” and told The Globe the pair discussed how to push the federal government for changes to the grant. So far, Ontario has had little luck getting Ottawa to sit down and discuss changes, the source said.
If the jobs grant goes ahead unchanged, Ms. Clark said, it would divert funds from current skills-training programs that focus on specific groups, including First Nations and people with disabilities.
“You cannot apply a one-size-fits-all model even within B.C. and think that it’s going to equally serve aboriginal people who have been struggling to get into the work force as it will older workers who are seeking to retrain,” she said. “You need to have that flexibility and be able to deliver those programs in unique ways.”
She also argued the grant would be hard for small businesses to access, as they might not have the money to participate.
“Yes: Let’s include more private-sector involvement,” she said. “But no: Let’s not go to an inflexible one-size-fits-all national program because we will not be able to meet the needs of our growing economies.”