With a federal budget just days away, the Quebec government is pressing Ottawa to affirm the province’s right to opt out of the controversial new skills training program with full financial compensation.
The call comes as Quebec Premier Pauline Marois contemplates the possibility of calling an election next month.
“I want the federal budget to clearly state that provinces will have the right to opt out of the new skills training program and receive full financial compensation,” Quebec Labour Minister Agnès Maltais said in an interview on Friday.
Ms. Maltais added that her government was part of the common front of provinces opposed to the Canada Job Grant program. But she said a great deal more may be at stake for Quebec.
The province wants to protect its job training model, which is unique in Canada. It got full responsibility for employment and training in a 1997 agreement with Ottawa.
“The Canada Job Grant is an unacceptable intrusion into Quebec’s fields of jurisdiction, and it duplicates the measures we that we have implemented,” Ms. Maltais said in an open letter to federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney. “By imposing a coast-to-coast solution that ignores Quebec’s jurisdiction and the specific features of its approach, you jeopardize the success obtained so far.”
The Quebec government is upset that almost two-thirds of the $116-million in special funds it receives each year from Ottawa to help train workers who do not qualify for employment insurance would be used for the new federal program. For instance, according to Ms. Maltais, money that should be targeted at the 30 per cent of immigrants who are unemployed in Montreal would instead by spent duplicating programs the province already has in place.
“Other vulnerable workers such as the disabled, older workers and troubled youths are going to be hurt by this plan,” Ms. Maltais said.
Mr. Kenney sent the provinces a revised proposal in December. The provinces gave Mr. Kenney a counterproposal at a meeting in Toronto on Tuesday. It included a request that any province could opt out of the job grant program with full compensation.
Nick Koolsbergen, a spokesperson for Mr. Kenney, said on Friday that discussions are ongoing.
The Canada Job Grant was announced in the 2013 budget and was to be implemented on April 1 of this year. Ottawa still intends to finance its share of the grants paid to individuals for job training by cutting 60 per cent of the $500-million a year transfer to the provinces for training vulnerable workers.