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The Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism met his provincial and territorial counterparts in a meeting at a Toronto hotel on Nov. 8, 2013, to discuss the Canada Job Grant. The sides remain at odds over diverting existing government funding to the planned program.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The federal government is willing to make changes to its planned Canada Job Grant to address provincial concerns, but wants to see more concrete proposals on how the training program could be modified.

That was the message Employment Minister Jason Kenney gave his provincial and territorial counterparts in a meeting at a Toronto hotel Friday.

Ottawa wants to divert $300-million it currently sends to the provinces into the grant, which would help companies train workers for specific jobs. The provinces and employers would match the federal funding.

The provinces, however, argue they need the $300-million for existing training programs, which mostly target vulnerable groups such as First Nations and disabled people. Small businesses will also find it hard to pony up the cash to take part in the grant, they say.

After the meeting, Mr. Kenney said he will be "flexible" on the structure of the program. The job grant could be used to serve marginalized groups, he said, and smaller employers would be allowed to pay less than a third to take part. On the core issue of the $300-million, he invited the provinces to suggest other ways to pay for the grant.

"If they have other ideas about flexibility – for example on how it could be financed – then I'm quite open to hear those and take those back to my federal colleagues," he said. "I think we may have the basis for a positive discussion going forward."

Alberta Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said officials from the provinces will draw up proposals and take them back to Ottawa. The provinces will keep a united front to push for changes, he said: "We're not going to be separated on this."

Ontario's Brad Duguid and Manitoba's Theresa Oswald both said they believed the provinces can reach a deal with Ottawa. "[Mr. Kenney] came, he was open and he used the word 'flexible,' I believe, with sincerity," Ms. Oswald said. "There is good reason to feel optimistic, but there is much more work to do."

Many business groups back the grant, saying it will help tailor training to the work force's needs. "[It will] give us the chance to apply it where the opportunities really are, instead of having the government predetermine where they think the opportunities are, get people all trained up, then come out and find there's not the job," said Sean Reid of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.