OTTAWA – Draining hundreds of millions of dollars from provincial and territorial job training programs is still a sticking point in talks over a contentious federal proposal, Ontario said Friday ahead of a conference call among provincial ministers.
Brad Duguid, Ontario’s training minister, wouldn’t say if it was non-negotiable, or if Ontario was prepared to walk away if the federal government refuses to bend on the issue. But he suggested there is room for the federal Conservatives to sweeten their latest offer.
Friday’s conference call was to allow the provinces to discuss the offer so they can “make it clear to the federal government that there’s still a long way to go, but that we hope that they can continue to address these ongoing challenges,” he said in an interview.
The proposed Canada Job Grant is supposed to provide $15,000 to each eligible worker, with the cost divided among Ottawa, the provinces and employers.
But the provinces have resisted, saying it would divert millions of federal dollars from programs the provinces already run, while asking them to pony up another $300 million to match funds for the grant.
Jason Kenney, the federal minister charged with getting a deal with the provinces, recently offered to cover the provincial portion of the proposed grants.
Duguid said while that covers the additional $300 million that the provinces would have to find, it would still take $300 million of federal money out of existing provincially run programs for youth, aboriginals and disabled people — workers the Tories have promised to help.
“Proposing a $300-million cut across the country — and in Ontario, $116 million cut — to programs that serve our most vulnerable workers without replacing that funding in any way of those programs is a funny way of showing concern for vulnerable workers and marginalized groups,” he said.
“That’s our major sticking point.”
Although the Tories are offering to increase their contribution to $10,000 for each worker, they’re not offering any additional funds. Some groups say that will cut the number of grants and reduce the program’s impact.
The Tories touted the Canada Job Grant in last October’s throne speech and have spent millions of dollars advertising it, all without the agreement of the provinces and territories.
Kenney has said he’s cautiously optimistic an agreement can be reached before the plan is scheduled to go into effect April 1.