As the nation's premiers get set to meet in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario next week, many of them are bracing for a battle with the federal government over job training and Nova Scotia premier Darrell Dexter is no exception.
In an interview with Kathleen Petty on CBC Radio's The House, Dexter says provincial leaders are concerned about what he calls a "mystery program" announced in last March's federal budget.
Although ads promoting the Canada Job Grant have been playing on TV for months, not much is known about how it will work.
"The Canada Job Grant is an unknown, and what we do know about it does not appear to be consistent with good public policy," Dexter said.
The aim of the program is to train up to 130,000 Canadians to try to help them get better jobs. Provinces are expected to contribute $5,000 of the $15,000 to be made available to trainees, with Ottawa and the employer kicking in an equal share.
Premiers are upset that this new approach will enable Ottawa to claw back $300-million that it gives to provinces and territories under Labour Market Agreements, which expire in 2014.
Dexter is frustrated that the federal government is pulling back control of the training programs, which had devolved in recent years towards greater provincial control.
"The federal government comes to us and says 'Here's the program and we want you to deliver it.'" said Dexter. "We're not really interested in delivering a plan that we had no part of, one that we don't really know is necessarily going to be effective for the people we represent, and one that runs the risk of actually destroying the programming we already have in place."
EI changes and temporary foreign workers
Lack of clarity around the Canada Job Grant, combined with changes to the Employment Insurance program that requires workers to be open to travelling to where the work is, has fostered tensions among Atlantic premiers.
Dexter says Ottawa simply doesn't understand the nature of the Maritime economy. He says many workers rely on two different seasonal jobs, with EI tapped to fill the gap in between. The idea that workers can leave the province or their communities to find work, and come back to seasonal work is not how it plays out in his province
"What happens is they leave the community and they never come back, so they are in fact eroding the populations of rural Nova Scotia," Dexter said. In some cases, companies in rural areas where workers have left are then forced to rely on another controversial federal program to survive.
"They have created such economic insecurity that people leave those communities, the employers there do not have the people to carry out the kind of work they have," said Dexter, "And then you see more requests for temporary foreign workers, rather than supporting our own workers in our own communities."
Listen to the full interview with Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter on CBC Radio's The House.