Premiers seek 'explicit alternatives' to federal job grant plan

The premiers have asked their labour ministers to come up with "explicit alternatives" to the federal government's controversial Canada Job Grant plan, said Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne following a meeting with her counterparts in Toronto on Friday.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford warns there is 'too much uncertainty' around foreign investment rules

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will host the fall meeting of the Council of the Federation, a group which brings together Canada's premiers and territorial leaders twice a year. (Aaron Lynett/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says the controversial Canada Job Grant was top of the agenda when premiers gathered for their semi-annual meeting in Toronto Friday morning.

Wynne who is hosting the fall meeting as chair of the Council of the Federation, which brings together Canada's provincial and territorial leaders, said the premiers support "evidence based" programs and have directed their ministers responsible for skills and training to present "explicit alternatives" to the federal government's job grant plan.

"If we take at face value what the federal minister [Jason Kenney] has said, there is room for some flexibility and we're going to work to have the ministers present an alternative," Wynne told reporters after meeting with her counterparts.

At stake is $500 million a year in funding the provinces receive from the federal government under Labour Market Agreements that are set to expire next year. Under the new job grant plan, the provinces will lose $300 million in funding from the federal government.

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney told the province's labour ministers last Friday in Toronto that the federal government is open to "flexible approaches."

Following that "frosty" and "tense" meeting with the labour ministers, this week Kenney told CBC News the federal government is already preparing contingency plans to deliver the training program in any province that doesn't sign on.

"If they don't want to participate at all, then I've been clear that we'll end up delivering a job grant directly in those provinces that do participate," Kenney told CBC News's Chris Hall.

"We're already doing contingency planning for prospective delivery of the federal job grant."

P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz has criticized the federal government for failing to consult the provinces on programs they are responsible for delivering to Canadians warning Stephen Harper's Conservatives that they "better start listening to the provinces."

Ghiz is furious the federal government plans to defund programs that have proven successful under current labour market agreements.

"The part that is most disturbing is the federal government is actually taking a program that is working and saying even though it works, 'we don't care, it doesn't fit with us ideologically,'" Ghiz said.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod is not happy that the Canada Job Grant will take money away from training programs for aboriginal people being carried out now under labour market agreements.

The federal grant plan will "take money away from the most vulnerable that need the training to get jobs," McLeod said.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger said his main beef with the Canada Job Grant plan is "it serves less people."

Wynne said the provinces and territories must retain the right to opt out and still retain funding that was provided under labour market agreements.

Premiers seek clarity around foreign investment

Wynne said the premiers also talked about the lack of clarity around the rules for foreign direct investment which some premiers say is keeping potential investment dollars away from oil and gas pipeline projects and other energy projects in their provinces.

"We agreed on the need to be able to reassure international investors that Canada remains open to investment, and that we want to work with the federal government to more clearly define the processes and procedures under the Investment Canada Act."

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said there were a number of premiers who said they are worried that the lack of clarity around the rules is having a chilling effect on "sophisticated" investors.

Premiers have heard investors say there's "so much uncertainty" right now that is is giving them pause for concern.

Redford appeared to take direct aim at remarks made last week by Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he said "it would be foolish for the Canadian government to provide absolute clarity," Harper said.

It's too easy to say there needs to be a little bit of uncertainty. There is too much uncertainty right now- Allison Redford, Alberta premier

"It's too easy to say there needs to be a little bit of uncertainty. There is too much uncertainty right now," Redford said on Friday.

The premiers have asked that the federal government engage the provinces on this subject when federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty meets with his counterparts next month. 

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has publicly said that relaxing foreign investment rules would help a company such as French-based Areva, which is the world’s second-largest uranium producer, proceed with majority ownership on projects in northern Saskatchewan. 

Last December, the federal government approved a bid by China’s CNOOC to buy Calgary-based Nexen, but signalled any future majority bids by state-owned foreign companies in the oilsands would only be approved on an ‘’exceptional" basis.

Questions over Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Wynne fielded several questions from local reporters about Toronto's embattled Mayor Rob Ford and whether he should recuse himself from representing the city at major events.

"I think what's happening at city hall right now is very fluid. I think the mayor needs to pay very close attention to the messages that he is getting from his councillors," Wynne said.

On Friday, Toronto city council voted 41-2 in favour of stripping the mayor of emergency powers.

"He will make his decision, but he needs to pay attention to the people who are advising him and colleagues on council," Wynne told reporters.

The premiers of Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories were in Toronto for the meeting chaired by Wynne, while the premiers of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yukon participated by phone.

Nunavut does not currently have a premier as Eva Aariak lost her seat in the territorial election at the end of October. A new premier is expected to be chosen Friday.

The premiers discussed a wide range of issues, including retirement income, infrastructure investment, rail transportation of dangerous or hazardous goods, and international trade.


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