In last spring's budget, the federal government announced a new job-training program, known as the Canada Job Grant. The idea of helping out-of-work Canadians acquire new skills was a good idea. Pretty much everything else about the program was not.
Where would the money come from? From long-standing job-training programs, jointly funded by the feds and the provinces. Are those job-training arrangements not working? Will the Canada Job Grant improve on them? The Harper government offered no arguments and no evidence. Remarkably, the Canada Job Grant announcement was backed up by no study or analysis, and almost no explanation of how the program will work or what it is intended to accomplish. A recent paper from two think-tanks, the Mowat Centre and the Caledon Institute for Social Policy, concluded that "the Canada Job Grant has all the signs of a proposal picked out of thin air."
But wait, there's more – or rather, less: Despite the fact that the new program was announced as being equally paid for by the feds, the provinces and employers, its unveiling was preceded by no negotiations between Ottawa and provincial governments. Provinces were simply told that they'd be losing federal skills-training money – about $300-million a year – which would pay for Ottawa's contribution to this new program. The Harper government was giving the impression of creating a new training program, but planning on quietly funding it out of the budget of the existing training program. Provinces, on top of losing $300-million, were told to kick in an extra $300-million for the new program. Facing serious budget shortfalls, several balked.
This week, negotiations between the provinces and Ottawa continued, nearly a year after the Harper government announced the Canada Job Grant, and months after it started running several million dollars' worth of nationwide ads, touting something that does not yet exist. In a concession, the federal minister on the file, Jason Kenney, now says that he won't be asking his provincial counterparts to kick in any new money. It looks as if the scheme will be funded two-thirds by Ottawa, and one-third by interested employers. But it appears that the provinces will still lose $300-million in funding for existing job-training programs. That makes sense if those programs aren't working, or if the Canada Job Grant improves on them. Does it? Where's the evidence?
The Harper government has always said that it believes in transparency and accountability in government, and clarity in federal-provincial relations. Would it be possible to come up with an on-the-job training program to teach these values to members of the government?