Provincial premiers are meeting this week in Ontario at the Council of the Federation, and one of the main topics is the proposed Canada Job Grant. The Job Grant was a big piece of the last Federal budget – up to $15,000 available per employee training, with an even split between the Federal government, the Provincial government and the employer. The program was to take effect when the current labour market agreements between the Federal and Provincial governments expire in 2014.
Sounded like a good idea, and some employers expressed their approval for the idea. The provinces? Not so much. And now it looks like the whole program could be in jeopardy because of politics.
Currently, the feds transfer money – around $300 million a year – to the provinces who then spend the money according to their own priorities. The new program would wrestle some degree of control over the programs from the provinces to the federal government – and therein lies the heart of the problem.
No one likes it when someone gives them something and then takes it back, and the government in Ottawa is proposing doing just that – and that has the provinces on a war footing. The issue isn’t whether the Canada Job Grant is good public policy or not; rather the issue seems to be that the provinces don’t like the idea of the feds muscling in on a program where in the past they could decide how and where to spend the money. Politicians like to have control over the dollars, so they can sprinkle it where they think it will do the most good – or generate the most political goodwill. Having another government at the table dictating the way monies will be spent predictably sticks in the craw of the provincial politicians.
Unfortunately, the federal government has been making a bit of a habit of acting this way, and the heavy handed way they’ve introduced this proposed program (advertising the program on TV before any of the details are worked out, for starters) almost guaranteed a backlash from the provinces.
The sad thing is, we need a national strategy around skills and workforce development, and we need to do something about the mismatch between the skills of the unemployed and the skill requirements of the jobs that are out there. Clearly, the way we are currently doing things isn’t working: we have large numbers of unemployed and/or underemployed Canadians, particularly young people, and we have large numbers of unfilled jobs. The Canada Job Grant, imperfect though it may be, at least recognizes that responsibility for solving the skills deficit is a joint responsibility between the federal and provincial governments, and employers. That’s a step in the right direction. Certainly, the way the file has been handled by the federal government hasn’t helped, but that doesn’t alter the fact that we need to change the way we look at workforce development in Canada, and internecine squabbling (or outright rejection before any details were announced, which was Quebec’s predictable response) isn’t helping. Hopefully the Premiers will agree this week to work collaboratively with the federal government to solve the problem.
In the meantime, we have large unemployment, skilled jobs unfilled, and employers bringing in temporary foreign workers to fill the void. That needs to change.