Federal budget's skills training focus good for Hamilton, expert says

The federal budget set to be announced Thursday is expected to be heavy on skills training, which is a good thing for Hamilton, a local labour expert says.

Others want poverty strategy, changes to gas tax fund

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will deliver his 2013 federal budget at 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The federal budget announcement Thursday is expected to be heavy on skills training, which is a good thing for Hamilton, a local labour expert says.

Training in skilled trades is needed to connect willing workers with job openings, said Wayne Lewchuk, a McMaster University professor of labour studies. Doing so will improve the economy across Canada.

"It's a good thing for Hamilton. It's a good thing for Canada," he said. "It's very clear right now that there's a tremendous mismatch between the skills people have and the skills employers are demanding."

In a letter to Conservative MPs earlier this week, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the budget would focus on:

  • Matching skills training programs with available jobs.
  • Investing more in infrastructure.
  • Supporting "value-added" jobs in manufacturing.

Flaherty wrote that "too many jobs go unfilled" because Canadian workers lack the right skills, and "we can do better" on job skills training.

The budget is expected to focus on a national skills training strategy.

One reason for a lack of skilled workers, Lewchuk said, is that employers don't want to invest in long-term workers. Many employees are hired through temp agencies or on short-term contracts, he said.

If the government puts forward a workable strategy to train workers, he said, "it's a good thing."

Here's what other Hamiltonians want to see in the budget:

Coun. Terry Whitehead

Each time we pump gas, a portion of it goes to the federal government in the form of a tax. The city gets a portion of that money through the federal gas tax fund, but that amount doesn't increase at the rate of inflation.

Whitehead, who represents Ward 8, would like to see that change. He wants the budget to include a plan to index the gas tax so it keeps up with inflation.

"It's clear that the need in municipalities in this country is significant," he said. "The gas tax has been a great opportunity to make investments in our community. The problem is that it doesn't grow, and of course inflation does."

Tom Cooper, director, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction

Canada has made some of the biggest public infrastructure investments in its history in the past four years, Cooper said. What it really needs is to invest in people.

Cooper wants to see a national poverty strategy, as well as a national housing strategy, which was voted down earlier this year. He knows both are unlikely Thursday.

He'd also like to see a national child care strategy. Nearly 1,800 Hamilton families are on a waiting list for subsidized child care, he said.

"For many moms and dads, having access to child care is a link back in to the job market," he said.

He'd also like to see changes to employment insurance. Recent reforms have been particularly damaging to Hamiltonians living in poverty, he said, and only one in five unemployed city residents actually get employment insurance.

He likes the idea of funding for skills training, he said. But the federal government needs these strategies to address "the more basic needs" of people with low incomes.

"It would be a bold move by the federal government to go in that direction," he said. "I'm not anticipating, based on the past, that they'll go in that direction, but we'll keep pushing."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca