Federal jobs training fund doomed without changes: premiers

TORONTO – Unless the federal Conservatives make substantial changes to the Canada Job Grant, the jobs training fund is doomed to failure, provincial leaders said Wednesday.

Ottawa has to be open to changing the program because a “one-size-fits-all” approach to helping more people find jobs isn’t going to work, said British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and New Brunswick Premier David Alward.

“If the federal government is hell-bent on moving forward without dialogue, the provinces have said, we will not be participating,” Alward said after a roundtable meeting in Toronto with representatives from the labour sector.

“That is clear.”

All 33 stakeholders at the meeting in Toronto said changes were needed to the program and only three said they were prepared to support the program, Clark said. Small businesses also have concerns.

“The closer the organization was to actually delivering training on the ground in communities, the more concerned they were about the impact it was going to have,” she said.

“And that really, I think, speaks to the concern that a big, one-size-fits-all solution is just simply not going to work on the ground where training is actually delivered and where workers get what they need to go into the real workforce.”

There’s a lot riding on getting the program right, Alward said.

“Ultimately it means that people will not be working,” he said. “Ultimately it means that businesses will not be successful, and ultimately it means governments — at all levels — will not have the revenues that they need to provide the services that people need.”

The federal Conservatives want to divert some of the money they give to the provinces and territories to the new Canada Job Grant, which would provide a grant of $15,000 per worker.

The provinces and territories, as well as the employers, would each kick in $5,000.

But the provinces and territories worry that it won’t give them enough flexibility to direct the money where it’s needed most and could jeopardize existing provincially run programs that help disadvantaged groups.

They say they’d have to come up with more than $600 million to maintain their current programs as well as match the cost of the Canada Job Grant.

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney is expected to meet with provincial and territorial leaders this fall to talk about the program.

The Canada Job Grant was designed to accommodate employers who want to have more say in job training programs, his office said in an emailed statement.

“It will bring federal and provincial and territorial governments together with employers to invest in skills training for unemployed and underemployed Canadians so that they are qualified to fill the high-quality, well-paying jobs available,” it said.

The two premiers, who were tasked by their counterparts to look at the program, said they also want input from employers as well as non-profit groups.

Ontario’s Training, Colleges and Universities minister said he’s already spoken to Kenney about the program, adding that the provinces aren’t “looking for a fight.”

But Ottawa needs to find another funding source, said Brad Duguid.

“We’re not going to sell out our most vulnerable workers,” he added.

“Aboriginal people, people with disabilities, youth, at-risk youth, newcomers. These are individuals in our province that we need to get into our labour market if we’re going to have a prosperous economy going forward into the future.”

It would be very difficult for the federal government to do it alone in provinces the size of Ontario and British Columbia, Duguid said.

Ottawa wouldn’t get Ontario’s share of the grants and would have to deliver the program without the province’s training infrastructure, he said.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t get to that,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the federal government recognizes that this program — while there are some positive elements to it — it’s doomed to failure the way it’s structured now.”

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