Moving to deal with the enigma of chronic unemployment and lingering skills shortages, Ottawa is pushing ahead with a controversial jobs grant program and investing in apprenticeships and internships for younger workers.
The government said Tuesday it intends to launch its job grant on April 1, although officials acknowledged the start date could be delayed pending ongoing negotiations with the provinces.
"We want to work with provinces to accomplish the goal," Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters before delivering his budget speech. "Remember what the goal is. The goal is to train people for jobs they get so they can contribute to the economy, contribute to their own well-being and contribute to their families."
The problem now, he said, is that there is "no accountability" for billions of dollars spent by the provinces.
The roughly $300-million a year program will offer unemployed and underemployed workers up to $15,000 a year to get training, with the cost borne one-third by employers and the rest by the federal government.
Several provinces have vigorously objected because Ottawa intends to pay for the newly created program by cutting money now transferred to the provinces for their own skills training initiatives.
The government also announced a smattering of less costly measures in the budget, including $35-million a year for internships, $8-million to help persons with disabilities and those with autism into the work force, $100-million program to extend interest-free student loans to train trades apprentices, and $6-million for a national "job matching" service.
The federal government has identified skills and jobs as top priorities, though "there's not really that much activity in the budget" in terms of new spending, said Glen Hodgson, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada. There are promises, but "it's all a year or two years down the road. So it's almost like a set-up budget for future action."
On jobs and skills, "they got the analysis right, but they chose not to use all the tools they could have...they've made a small down payment on jobs, on apprenticeships, on getting people engaged the work force," he added. So there's lots of little programs announced -- but if you look at the actual funding, it's minimal."
With files from Tavia Grant