After some last minute arm-twisting with Nova Scotia, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has secured a deal with all provinces and territories except Quebec to launch a Canada Job Grant.
More detailed talks with each province are still to come, but the stage is set for Canadians to access training grants of up to $15,000 later this year to help land a new or better job.
After months of negotiations, the Council of the Federation representing Canada's premiers said they had negotiated changes to Ottawa's plan "which minimize the negative impact of the initial federal proposal." The statement from the council, which is currently chaired by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, includes an asterisk that says Quebec intends to opt out of the plan with full compensation, though sources suggest a side deal with Quebec could be announced soon.
Provinces announced they would now move to bilateral negotiations with Ottawa to work out the remaining details.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark, who helped lead the provincial talks, told The Globe and Mail in an interview that she expects the deal will make a genuine difference for Canadians. She recalled being moved by stories from Canada's trucking sector about the impact a small grant could make in helping someone land their first job as a trucker.
"It's not a high-skilled job, but it does require some skill," she said, listing the sector as an area where a bit of training under the job grant could be the difference in helping someone own a home and provide for their family.
"This is how we are going to eliminate poverty in our country. It's by giving people skills," she said. The Premier also praised Mr. Kenney for being "a good listener" and for responding to provincial concerns.
Big questions remain, however, as to whether the promise of the job grant will materialize. Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has strong concerns and was caught off guard Friday morning when Mr. Kenney announced a deal had been reached with all provinces and territories except Quebec.
Nova Scotia had not agreed to anything at that point. It was not until Mr. Kenney and Mr. McNeil spoke by phone Friday afternoon that Nova Scotia reluctantly agreed to work out its concerns through bilateral talks.
Nova Scotia Labour Minister Kelly Regan said small and medium-sized businesses in her province are not likely to contribute to the grant. Ms. Regan said Mr. Kenney promised to keep working on Nova Scotia's concerns, which allowed it to move from "a 'no,' to a cautious agreement to continue talking."
Ms. Regan said businesses are reluctant to put money up front to train someone who has never worked for them. "I have yet to have a business call me up and tell me that they want to cough up $5,000 up front," she said. The possibility that Ottawa will claw back cash if targets aren't met is a major concern for Nova Scotia.
"A program that we have raised concerns about and said 'We don't think it's going to work for us,' we're going to be penalized when it doesn't and they'll take money from programs that actually do work," she said.
For his part, Mr. Kenney acknowledged that there are still concerns that will have to be addressed through one-on-one talks. He also said businesses could be allowed to contribute less than one third of the cost of a training grant.
"At the end of the day, it never was proposed as one agreement. It would be potentially 13 agreements, one with each province and territory." And obviously they are not final agreements until they are finally signed," Mr. Kenney told reporters Friday. "We have more work to do but I do appreciate the positive signal coming from Premier Wynne on behalf of the Council of the Federation."
With a report from Steven Chase