Jason Kenney to get an earful from provinces who need low-skilled workers

Employment Minister Jason Kenney is meeting with provincial and territorial labour ministers in Charlottetown today.

But Kenney wants to discuss the need for greater harmonization of apprenticeship systems

Employment Minister Jason Kenney is meeting with provincial and territorial ministers responsible for labour today in Charlottetown for the first time since he announced an overhaul to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

When Employment Minister Jason Kenney meets with provincial and territorial labour ministers in Charlottetown today he will want to discuss the need for greater harmonization of apprenticeship systems, but his counterparts will try to convince him to scale back recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Kenney is co-chairing the Forum of Labour Market Ministers with P.E.I.'s Allen Roach.

"We're working on greater harmonization of apprenticeship systems in the provinces so it’s easier for people to move from one province to another without losing time or losing the investment they’ve made," Kenney recently told a group of provincial stakeholders gathered in Toronto for a one-day skills summit organized by his department.

A government official who was not authorized to speak on the record told CBC News that Kenney will be asking the provinces — specifically Ontario and Quebec — for "clear commitments" that would pave the way for skilled tradespeople to have greater labour mobility between provinces.

Today's labour ministers meeting will be the first time Kenney sits down face-to-face with the ministers from Ontario and Quebec who will be at the table fresh off election victories. But it will also be the first time he sees his provincial counterparts since he announced the overhaul to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

Western premiers expressed concern on Thursday about the federal government’s intention to alter provincial-territorial Labour Market Development Agreements which provide federal funding to train unemployed Canadians who are eligible for employment insurance.

The premiers urged the federal government to consider how all of these changes will have an impact in their ability to find available labour.

Low-skilled workers needed

Labour ministers from Western Canada and the Atlantic provinces will tell Kenney the overhaul to the federal program has gone too far, leaving them with an urgent need for low-skilled labour.

Appearing on CBC News Network's Power & Politics Thursday, Kyle Fawcett, Alberta's minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, went further saying the recent changes will have "severe economic consequences."

"What we want to articulate is that there isn't a made-in-Canada solution that is the silver bullet for all of our problems, but it's important ... for him to engage us in coming up with solutions that work for all of us."

"If we can convince him that there might need to be some differentiation of policy between the regions in the country, I think that would be a positive step forward," Fawcett said.

P.E.I.'s Allen Roach, who also appeared on Power & Politics Thursday, told Barton he would raise concerns expressed to him by the Seafood Processors Association who argue that recent changes to the program could be devastating to the provincial economy.

"They have concerns about not being able to access the labour force necessary to process their product... and when the product doesn't leave, the company doesn't make the money and that affects the economy of all of P.E.I.," Roach told Barton.

While Kenney did earn the respect of the provinces and territories after the two sides successfully negotiated changes to the Canada Job Grant, a centrepiece proposal imposed on them by the Conservatives in their 2013 budget, it is unclear whether he will be swayed by their arguments.

Kenney has defended the changes saying they were needed because there was growing abuse of the program which led to a systemic distortion of the labour market and a suppression of wages.


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