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Ontario says vulnerable job seekers may lose with new skills training plan

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Prime Minister Stephen Harper enter the House of Commons to table the budget on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday March 21, 2013.

Patrick Doyle/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The governing Liberals say Ontario's most vulnerable job seekers may not get the help they need if Ottawa goes ahead with the new skills training plan outlined in the federal budget.

The federal Conservatives are planning to divert some of the money they give the provinces to the Canada Jobs Grant program.

Brad Duguid – the minister for training, colleges and universities – says it's a shell game that could hurt Ontario because it won't have the flexibility to direct the money where it's needed.

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He says Ontario gets $194-million from Ottawa for those programs, but it may not reach the people who need it most, such as youth, older workers, disabled people and welfare recipients.

The Liberals say they're the ones who are best placed to decide how to meet the specific labour market needs of the province.

The provinces are expected to contribute a third of each $15,000 training grant, with Ottawa and the employer providing $5,000 each.

"But the federal government isn't providing one additional new cent in expenditure here for these programs," Duguid said.

"They're just taking money they're already giving to the provinces for very important programs that serve in Ontario our most vulnerable unemployed. So I'm concerned about this right now and I think all Ontarians should be."

Duguid said "there's no question" that some of those provincial programs may disappear under the new federal plan.

"We're talking about $194-million," he said.

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"If they take 60 per cent of that over the next few years, and the province has to match it, well, where is the province going to come up with the money?"

But Duguid and Finance Minister Charles Sousa say the provincial government is willing to talk to Ottawa about the plan.

The federal Conservatives say the revamped program will take skills training choices out of the hands of the government and put it into the hands of employers and job seekers.

It won't kick in until April, 2014, and is contingent on negotiations with the provinces.

Skills training was moved to provincial jurisdiction in the past decade, so the more direct intervention by the federal government isn't getting a good reception.

Ontario isn't alone in its concerns about the program. Quebec's sovereigntist government says it treads on provincial jurisdiction and duplicates an existing provincial program that does the job.

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