Premiers vs. PM on job training

John Geddes looks at Jason Kenney’s first test in new post


Aaron Lynett/CP

If the term “open federalism” rings only a faint bell, don’t be too hard on yourself. It was briefly a key catch phrase during Stephen Harper’s early months as Prime Minister back in 2006, but hasn’t exactly stuck as a defining value of his government.

Harper used “open federalism” to describe how his Conservatives planned to respect the provinces’ “experience and expertise” and stay out of their areas of jurisdiction. In opposition, after all, he had slammed the governing Liberals for “meddling” in provincial matters while neglecting core federal responsibilities.

But it’s hard to find any trace of that early reticent, respectful posture in his government’s stance this year on job training, which is easily the most contentious topic on the table at this week’s provincial and territorial premiers meeting at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., their annual Council of the Federation confab.

The host, Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s new Liberal premier, emerged from this morning’s sessions to announce that the premiers are united in objecting to the Harper government’s proposed Canada Job Grant, a bid put a federal stamp on job training, which is now managed pretty much as each province sees fit. “There really was a very strong feeling that the [federal plan] as it is just won’t work,” Wynne told reporters.

She said the premiers will ask for a meeting on the issue between their jobs ministers and Jason Kenney, Harper’s newly appointed employment and social development minister. Kenney quickly accepted, but he said the meeting will be a chance to “move forward with timely implementation of the Canada Job Grant.”  It would have been politically awkward, to say the least, for him to have appeared open to backing off at all on the jobs grant concept. After all, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty unveiled the plan, with considerable fanfare, as a centerpiece of last spring’s federal budget.

In brief, Flaherty proposed to take $300 million out of the roughly $500 million the federal government now transfers to the provinces to support training under so-called labour market agreements.  That $300 million would then be repurposed as Ottawa’s share of an all-new training system. To play along, provinces and participating employers would have to match the federal contribution. They would each cover a third of up to $15,000 a year for every employee enrolled for training.

But the provinces by and large say their current training programs work fine. Why should they gut them to set up a new made-in-Ottawa scheme? The stakes are high: Wynne says her province might lose $116 million of the $194 million the feds now pay into key training programs designed, she stresses, to meet Ontario’s particular needs.

Casting back to Harper’s manner of talking in his open-federalism days, imposing a jobs grant hatched in Ottawa doesn’t seem terribly respectful of provincial experience and expertise. Perhaps it’s justified, though. Maybe federal officials have carefully studied the landscape and concluded that that provinces are botching training so badly overall that they can’t be trusted to lead reforms.

Provincial officials I’ve talked with here don’t seem to fear that Kenney is sitting on a sweeping analysis that would expose their programs as failures. They admit some provincial training schemes don’t work well, but insist others are demonstrably successful. So why a wholesale, nationwide renovation to repair merely patchy problems? One possibility is that the federal government is less concerned with policy reform than with political branding.

The Conservatives have made “jobs, growth and long-term prosperity” their master slogan. That familiar upswept-arrows logo is all over public works projects and more. Unending advertising backs up the thrust.  But Ottawa doesn’t reap much credit, under the current system, for its contribution to provincially run training.

That’s why some provincial officials suspect, although they ask not to be quoted on this point, that gaining higher visibility might be the prime objective of the Canada Job Grant. (Canadian Press reports today that a federal document on the grant notes that participating provinces will be required to “publicly acknowledge the Government of Canada’s contribution.”)

But let’s assume that the federal push is motivated by a mix of genuine conviction that training could be improved and strategic interest in getting some political credit for hundreds of millions in yearly spending. To achieve those not-incompatible goals, it’s now Kenney who must coax the provinces on-side.

This will be a far trickier file to manage, I think, than some other high-profile fed-prov relations rough patches that the Harper government has simply rolled over. On federal transfer payments for health, for instance, Flaherty briskly dictated new terms in late 2011, cutting the rate of increase from six per cent a year to roughly the pace of economic growth. Provinces were shocked. But who could credibly complain? He wasn’t telling them how to run health care—just how much Ottawa could afford to pony up.

But on job training, the Harper government isn’t just allocating funds, it’s trying to shape programs. This isn’t a straightforward jurisdictional squabble. Both levels have legitimate policy concerns—and unavoidable political interests—when it comes to matching workers to available work. The problem is that, rather than acting as though it recognizes that complexity, the Conservatives lumbered ahead with the jobs grant without bothering with serious consultations.

In effect, Kenney must now do that consulting after the fact. He’ll want to retain at least the outline of the Canada Job Grant, and yet somehow assuage provincial politicians over what seem like eminently legitimate gripes. He made his reputation as a can-do immigration minister, drafting rafts of ambitious new policy about which provinces might have been interested, but where as federal minister he enjoyed clear primacy.

Now, we’ll see how Kenney fares finessing a file on which he must champion a policy not of his own making, and on which the provinces aren’t merely engaged, but view themselves, with good reason, as the front-line players. This sort of challenge arises often enough in Canadian federalism, and demands a certain open style of leadership. I seem to recall that someone used to have a term for it.


Premiers vs. PM on job training

  1. The provinces shouldn’t give an inch on this one. Any interference by the federal government constitutes a violation of the sovereignty of the provincial crowns.

    • There are no provincial crowns, nor are provinces ‘sovereign’

      • “There are no provincial crowns”. Depends on how you define that. If the Governor General is considered the federal “crown” then a lieutenant-governor would be a provincial “crown”.

        As for sovereign, one definition is “having supreme rank, power, or authority” – which the provinces do have in limited areas, and upon one of which the feds are now trying to infringe.

        Yes I’m being nitpicky, but you knew damn well what 1derer was getting at. One round of semantics deserves another :-)

        • In Canada, a lieutenant governor (/lɛfˈtɛnənt/; French [masculine]: lieutenant-gouverneur, or [feminine]: lieutenant-gouverneure) is the viceregal representative in a provincial jurisdiction of the Canadian monarch and head of state, Queen Elizabeth II, who resides predominantly in her oldest realm, the United Kingdom. On the advice of his or her prime minister, the Governor General of Canada appoints the lieutenant governors to carry out most of the monarch’s constitutional and ceremonial duties for an unfixed period of time[1]—known as serving at His Excellency’s pleasure


          • Yup – the provincial Crown :-)

            Although 1derer meant “crown” in the sense of “government” – you know: Crown lands; Crown prosecutor…

          • There is only one crown in Canada.

            Why do you waste your time doing daft stuff like this?

            I am not psychic, or a translator or a nanny….nor do I have time to waste on fools. A govt is not a crown.

          • And the GG, the LGs, and all government officials are her representatives. And she owns all the land.

            Seriously, using “crown” to refer to the government may not be used widely these days, but it was once fairly common vernacular – and you are old enough to remember that.

            So if you get all nitpicky and play semantics instead of addressing the actual comment, don’t get all huffy when given a taste of it yourself :-)

          • No, there was always a distinction between the ‘crown’ and the ‘govt’

            There are several huffy nitpickers on here….you are just one of them

            I have no interest in nits…or nitpickers….or idiots.

            Go occupy yourself for the evening. I’m busy

      • You are incorrect. Each province is co-sovereign with the federal government, and authority over provincial and federal matters is derived by those bodies’ respective crowns, not from a single national crown.

        Take a gander at this: http://scc.lexum.org/decisia-scc-csc/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/5413/index.do

        Notice how the appellant is “Her Majesty the Queen in right of the Province of Nova Scotia” and not “Her Majesty the Queen in right of Canada”? That’s because she operates as a sovereign crown in Nova Scotia, and although the Lieutenant Governor is appointed by the Governor General, they are equal positions (both representing the Queen directly).

        The structure of this arrangement was legally enshrined in “The Liquidators of the Maritime Bank of Canada v The Receiver General of New Brunswick” (Judgement reads in part: “the Lieutenant Governor is as much a representative of Her Majesty, for all purposes of Provincial Government as the Governor General himself is, for all purposes of Dominion Government.”)

        The notion of co-sovereign equality was further enshrined in 1931 when the Statute of Westminster divided the (then) British monarchy into separate crowns, all of which were declared to be equal. (See: Interpretation from the Appellate court of England and Wales, 1982, as part of the repatriation of our constitution: “the Crown became separate and divisible, according to the particular territory in which it was sovereign… It was separate and divisible for each self-governing Dominion or province or territory.”)

        For more information on the co-sovereign nature of our federation, I suggest the following:

        1. The Governor General and Lieutenant Governors: Canada’s Misunderstood Viceroys
        http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2009/Donovan.pdf (start at page 3)
        2. The Crown in the Provinces: Canada’s Compound Monarchy

        Or you could just read Wikipedia’s article on this, which is incredibly well-done and probably includes most of which I’ve written here:

        • There is only one Queen. Now try being serious.

          • There is only one Queen, but there are crowns in right of the different provinces of Canada and a crown in right of Canada. Canada cannot sue Canada but Ontario can sue Quebec or Canada. The crown operates as a different legal entity in each province. The provinces are sovereign in their exclusive areas of jurisdiction, according to the constitution of the federation, and this is recognized in many ways, including the clarity act which addresses the conditions under which a province would regain its full sovereignty. The sovereignty of the provinces cannot both “belong” exclusively to Canada while the provinces have the legal right to exercise their sovereignty and leave the federation.

          • And Maine can sue Texas.

            The constitution dumped health and education on the provinces because no one was bright enough to realize that a doc in a horse and buggy with a bag full of leeches….or a one room school…wasn’t going to cut it. So our provinces don’t have enough money, and the feds have long since had to kick in….and set standards.

            The provinces are not sovereign, nor have any of them ever claimed to be.

          • Texas can sue Maine foe the same reason. Read Political
            Divisions of the US on wiki for a quick info on that system of parallel sovereignty. However, there is no law that I know of in the US that clarifies the conditions under which a state could regain its exclusive sovereignty and leave the federation.

          • Thank you, no

            Until the Chretien/Dion clarity act we didnt have conditions of any kind….and of course a province could just skip those legal niceties.

            Much like the south did in 1861

          • Gee, have you heard of the civil war. Quebec held two referendums on secession before the adoption of the clarity act.

          • What did you think the 1861 was in reference to??

            Canada won’t have any civil war though….and Quebecois have the right to do what they want.

          • Emily, I’ve quoted actual court decisions, @LoraineLamontagne:disqus has referenced the Clarity Act, and you… you’ve just said”you’re wrong” ad nauseum while making statements that you provide no support for.

            It’s clear at this point that you’re more interested in adhering to your preconceptions than having a real discussion. At the end of the day, you’re objectively wrong, and the strength of your convictions just comes off as petty insecurity. Have fun living in the dark. I’m out.

          • And I’m sure you think you believe in one god…..but there are 3….and Mary has dozens of aspects….but there’s only one Mary.

            There is nothing to discuss here….there is only one Queen, no matter how many legal fictions you indulge in.

            And the provinces aren’t sovereign….which is what this is actually about.

          • Just thought I’d leave this here before I finish. If you can’t figure out that you’re wrong through the Government of Canada’s own description of the Arms of Manitoba as “signalling Manitoba’s co-sovereign status in Confederation”…

            …Well, that would be kind of sad.

            Edit1: And here’s Saskatchewan saying directly that they are co-sovereign with the federal government: http://www.legassembly.sk.ca/about/intro/

            Edit2: Oh wait, and here they’re talking about co-sovereignty in the Ontario legislature! http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/house-proceedings/house_detail.do?locale=en&Sess=1&Parl=36&Date=1997-08-21

            My, it’s almost like blindly making claims isn’t an effective way to approach complex legal topics.

          • ‘Co’ …..they are one with the federal govt….not separately. All provinces are equal to each other, and form one country.

            You through now?

          • You don’t even know what what “co” means, and are just making something up to suit your narrative. As I said… its kind of sad. Have fun living in a country that you don’t have even a cursory understanding of.

          • LOL if you think provinces are sovereign, try printing your own money, raising your own army and issuing your own passports.

            So don’t talk smack.

          • You’re adorable. But “co-sovereign” means precisely that. Feds are sovereign over some things (e.g. money), the provinces over others. I do love how committed you are to your imaginary version of Canada.

          • I know I am….But feds are sovereign. Period.

          • They sure are. And so are the provinces! (Hence the individual crowns you like to pretend don’t exist.) The powers and limits of each are merely divided by the constitution.

            What’s fun about this discussion is that your position hasn’t been held by a single constitutional expert since 1982, and in practice, since “Re: Resolution to amend the Constitution, [1981] 1 S.C.R. 753.”

          • If you don’t have sovereign powers you don’t have sovereignty.


            And no province has ever claimed to be sovereign.

            Now then….job training or Ciao.

          • I literally linked you to the Ontario government referring to itself as co-sovereign, and you’re still sticking to your “no province has claimed to be sovereign” line. I can’t imagine the mental gymnastics you’re doing to justify your preconceptions. It’s like talking with a religious apologist, except in this case there’s actually an objective truth that you’re ignoring.

            Fun fact: According to your definition of sovereignty, the federal government is also not sovereign, as it does not have access to several powers exclusive to the provinces. At this point you’ve done a great job revealing that you don’t understand how a federation works.

            Of course, technically you are correct. Neither the nation nor the provinces are by-themselves sovereign. Their sovereignty is invested in the, er, sovereign. That is, the institution of the crown as embodied by the Queen, with authority being communicated directly through her eleven equal representatives (1 Governor General and 10 Lieutenant Governors).

            And of course, this is a matter pertinent to job training, as labour is a matter that the constitution delegates authority to the provinces, with Royal Assent being signed by the LG as representative of The Queen in Right of Province (Provincial government – Lieutenant Governor – Crown). Since the federal government has no place within this chain of command, they have no business interfering in the sovereign business of the provincial crowns.

            The Crown is an institution, not a person—a fact you earlier seemed confused about—hence its divisibility.

            For more on the crown, read this handy guide by the Government of Canada. Page 48 in particular makes reference to how your views on Canada became indisputably inaccurate in 1872. http://canadiancrown.gc.ca/DAMAssetPub/DAM-CRN-jblDmt-dmdJbl/STAGING/texte-text/crnMpls_1336157759317_eng.pdf?WT.contentAuthority=4.4.4

            I’m sure that you’ve somehow managed to rationalize even that new information, so I think I’ll just leave it at this. Have fun living in your imaginary version of Canada!

          • Like I said….Ciao baby.

          • Precisely. Throughout the Commonwealth, the crown is constitutionally regarded as a corporation which is embodied by The Queen in Right of [Realm]. Thus, we have multiple crowns, multiple (and separate) titles and roles for the same monarch, and co-sovereignty between provinces and the federal government.

            Territories do not have crowns, and are thus entirely under federal sovereignty. Hence the name.

            Canada is one of seven countries that is frequently referred to as a “federal monarchy”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_monarchy

          • There is but one crown….not even Boy George qualifies. LOL

  2. How can Flaherty announce a plan which requires provincial co-funding and cooperation without consulting the provinces in any meaningful way? Won’t the provinces have to enact mirror legislation to get this scheme running? Especially considering that it will be a $300 million budgetary item (even spread among the 13 jurisdictions, that’s still a hefty item).

  3. “That’s why some provincial officials suspect, although they ask not to be quoted on this point, that gaining higher visibility might be the prime objective of the Canada Jobs Grant.”

    MIGHT be? For Stephen Harper, optics is what governing’s all about. And you can quote me.

  4. I sent Kathleen Wynne a lengthy email about my inability to find employment in Ontario for 2 years, and I am a former MBA student with corporate experience! There are constant barriers to gain access to programs such as the Second Career which is offered here. I don’t care what they do or how they do it but the provinces better stop with their idle chat and accept that whatever Ontario is doing ($255 BILLION and counting) isn’t working.

Sign in to comment.