Details announced in Tuesday's federal budget aimed at delivering guaranteed jobs under the proposed Canada Job Grant shouldn't come as a surprise to the provinces, Employment Minister Jason Kenney told CBC News in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
"What we simply clarified in yesterday's budget is what I've said all along, which is that if provinces choose not to deliver the job grant, we will deliver it directly to Canadians so they get good jobs," Kenney said in an exclusive interview with CBC's Julie Van Dusen on Wednesday.
Tuesday's federal budget announced that in provinces or territories where a deal cannot be reached, the government will deliver the federal grant directly through Service Canada starting April 1.
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While Kenney has said all along that Ottawa was prepared to go at it alone, Tuesday's budget was the first time the government offered some detail on how it plans to do that.
"It is my hope that provinces will come to an agreement with us so that they can deliver a job grant in a way that is sensitive to their own regions, but should they opt not to do so, that's fine — no harm, no foul," Kenney said.
"The federal government will deliver the job grant directly."
P.E.I. has taken this as a "take it or leave it" option while the government of Quebec called it a "threat" and an "encroachment" into its areas of expertise.
Grant would guarantee jobs
The provinces are upset with the government's decision announced in last year's budget to fund the federal grant by taking $300 million out of their Labour Market Agreements which are set to expire on March 31.
Support for the Canada Job Grant
The government says the job grant is supported by various organizations including:
- The Building and Construction Trades.
- Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
- Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters.
- Canadian Construction Association.
- Information Technology Association of Canada.
- Welding Bureau.
- Engineers Canada.
- Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.
- National Association of Career Colleges.
The federal government has been giving the provinces $500 million under the agreements, but the provinces argue that losing 60 per cent of those funds would put programs that train "vulnerable workers" on the chopping block.
According to Kenney, the Canada Job Grant would ensure "that taxpayers are getting a better bang for their buck."
"There are some good provincial programs, but there are also many that just don't lead to jobs. The whole point of the job grant is it will involve employers in selecting employees who they believe will have the propensity to work, getting them specific training, and the employers offer them a job at the end of it," Kenney said.
The proposed Canada Job Grant would provide workers up to $15,000 toward skills training to find a new or better job.
Under Kenney's latest offer, the federal government would fund up to two-thirds of the grant, with employers kicking in the other third.
"We have expressed a whole lot of flexibility. I think I've sent the provinces four revised offers, each of them reflecting their concerns," Kenney said.
The federal government also pointed out today that the money the provinces receive through the Labour Market Agreements is theirs to prioritize as they see fit.
"All of it, 100 per cent of it, is federal money, and none of it existed before our government brought in the Labour Market Agreements for $500,000 in 2007," Kenney said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty put it more bluntly following an event in Ottawa Wednesday's morning.
"It is federal money, tax money. And it is not for a provincial government to tell the federal government how to spend it," Flaherty said.
The provinces met with Kenney in Toronto last week and are expecting a response to their counter-offer in the coming days.
Kenney said "good conversations" were taking place with the provinces and that "like in any negotiation, you hope there is going to be some give and take."
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne told reporters in Toronto today she hopes a deal can be reached by April 1.
"I hope we'll be able to get there, it's a very important program. I hope that we're going to be able to have a situation where the federal government understands the kind of flexibility that provinces need."
Under the provinces' most recent counter-offer, which was obtained by Radio-Canada on Feb. 4, Ottawa would give the provinces other options in the way the grant is funded and give employers more flexibility to participate in the grant.
"If not, then that's going to be again another problem where we're going to have to decide whether we step into a gap that has been left by the federal government," Wynne said on Wednesday.
"I hope we can do it by the first [of April]."
New Brunswick Premier David Alward said on Wednesday his province was not ready to throw in the towel.
"We all continue to have concerns, but we're not giving up on the work that we're doing with the federal government to ensure that it's going to be a program that works for people," Alward said.