The Harper government’s Canada Job Grant is a “slap in the face” for provinces and territories, says a scathing new report that predicts the “deeply flawed” proposal will fall flat amid growing opposition.
The report from the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto and the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, accuses the government of pressuring the provinces into accepting the $900-million program.
“The Canada Job Grant represents an aggressive federal foray into an area which had been recognized over the last quarter century as within provincial jurisdiction,” the report states. "Provinces have practical and jurisdictional responsibility for labour market training."
The Canada Job Grant has been controversial since it was first introduced in the federal budget in late March, with several provinces objecting such as Quebec and Ontario. The Ontario government said last week it planned to opt out the program because of its plan to take money from existing programs to fund it. The Harper government has also raised eyebrows with its primetime television spots promoting the program that isn’t scheduled to begin until next year.
The Canada Job Grant proposes putting forward about $15,000 per employee for job skills training, money it says will be split three ways with the provinces or territories and the employer.
The program takes $300 million annually away from the current $500 million Labour Market Agreements (LMA) going to provinces, which the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has argued will create a disadvantage for low-skilled workers.
“The LMA is the sole source of government funding for workplace literacy training,” the CLC said in its response to the program announcement this spring. “Nothing justifies the current reallocation of money from literacy into the hands of employers. More money should have been allocated to do both.”
Erin Weir, economist with the United Steelworkers (USW), points to recent job-vacancy figures for March which show the real problem is that not enough new jobs are being created.
Statistics Canada said Tuesday that national job vacancy rate among Canadian businesses was 1.5 per cent in March, down from 1.7 per cent a year earlier.
"While I would support more investment in training. it doesn't make sense to train people for jobs that don't exist," said Weir, who argues the government should instead place more emphasis on creating jobs and on providing adequate benefits to unemployed workers.
He also worries that the Canada Job Grant puts too much power for training into the hands of employers. "I do think there is a broader public interest beyond employers' interests. We want training to be relevant to job opportunities and requirements, but training policy should go beyond giving money to businesses."
The Harper government says it plans to negotiate details of the Canada Jobs Grant with provinces and territories over the next year, as well as labour organizations and other stakeholders.
Still, the Mowat/Caledon report argues the Harper government has gone about it the wrong way, and should have started with consultations.
“Without anypublished evidence, the federal government is suggesting a full U-turn, undertaken through a unilateralannouncement with no warning or consultation with provinces,” the report states.