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Ottawa wants companies to jointly train workers through Canada Job Grant

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney is pictured in Ottawa on Sept. 10, 2013. The Conservative government will encourage companies to pool their efforts in training workers through the Canada Job Grant, according to new program details obtained by the Globe and Mail.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservative government will encourage companies to pool their efforts in training workers through the Canada Job Grant, according to new program details obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Ottawa is suggesting that a consortium of businesses or an employer group could run a training program for a group of potential employees under the program, which is scheduled to begin next year. The new details come amid growing signs that the Conservative government is prepared to go it alone in running the training program.

The Canada Job Grant is the centrepiece of the Conservative government's jobs agenda, but the idea is running into increasingly vociferous resistance from provincial premiers.

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Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney is planning to meet his provincial colleagues on Nov. 8 to launch face-to-face negotiations. When the idea was first announced in the March federal budget, it was described as a training grant in which Ottawa, a province and an employer would each contribute up to $5,000.

The Conservative government's plans include a very broad definition of training, allowing online courses and on-the-job learning to qualify, in addition to traditional training programs offered by colleges, universities and trade unions.

The program would be open to anyone who is eligible to work in Canada, and has the backing of an employer.

The plan's details are contained in a letter written by Mr. Kenney to labour leader Robert Blakely, the director of Canadian Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department.

The letter hints that the program could be run without the participation of the provinces and that "little paperwork" would be involved in the application process.

"We will make every effort to ensure that the grant is as administratively light as possible, with clear and concise criteria and little paperwork," Mr. Kenney writes. "Employers will only need to deal with one level of government when applying for the grant, not two."

On Thursday, Mr. Kenney was more blunt: "We hope we can work out a flexible arrangement with the provinces, but if not, we're going to go ahead ourselves and administer directly a federal jobs grant," he told CTV's Power Play.

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Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, expressed doubt that competing companies would work together to train staff. "It's going to be difficult to do in our industry, just because they're so competitive and they're so different," he said. Mr. Whyte said skilled labour shortages are an issue for 30 per cent of the association's members. He said the goal of Ottawa's program is good, but the details are not clear and the two levels of government should be working together.

Provinces are concerned because Ottawa plans on funding the new grant by using $300-million of an annual $500-million transfer that is currently used to train "under-represented" groups who are not eligible for employment insurance, including immigrants, persons with disabilities, aboriginal people, youth and older workers.

Brad Duguid, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, said the grant is being funded "on the backs of our most vulnerable workers."

Mr. Duguid said there is still time to make the program work, but that big changes are needed.

"Our view is we can make this work for them and help them out of this dilemma but they're going to have to move a long way on this."

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