Where does business stand on the Canada Job Grant?

As with most things, it depends who you ask

As the premiers exited their meetings today in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., several of them added fuel to the fire lit earlier by Ontario’s Kathleen Wynne, when she announced that provincial and territorial leaders are united in their opposition to the federal government’s Canada Job Grant (which I posted on here).

Employment and Social Development Minister Jason Kenney quickly took the premiers up on their request for a meeting between him and their provincial jobs ministers. But Kenney pointedly suggested they would meet, not to scrap the job grant, but to speed its implementation.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark not only said that won’t happen, she predicted that not a single province would sign on to the proposed shared-cost program. “The consensus opinion from every premier today,” she said, “is that the program as it’s proposed at the moment will not have any uptake in any province across the country.”

Clark has teamed up with New Brunswick’s David Alward to take the lead on behalf of all the provinces in trying to work something out with the federal government. Alward, a Conservative, was equally emphatic in declaring that today’s sessions “proved that there was consensus from coast to coast to coast that the Canada Jobs Grant, as proposed by the federal government, will not work.”

That’s irrefutably true when it comes to the provincial politicians. But what about the business community? Alward said the private sector doesn’t like the jobs grant idea either. “This is not only a message that has been conveyed by provincial and territorial governments,” he said. “This is a message that is taking place right across the country from the business community as well.”

But Kenney’s office offered a pretty powerful rejoinder to that claim—a list of business groups that endorsed the Canada Job Grant last spring, after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the three-way, equally split, federal-provincial-employer formula for subsidizing training.

Among the business groups on Kenney’s list of “supportive stakeholders”: the Canadian Electricity Association, the Canada Manufacturers & Exporters, the Canadian Media Production Association, the Canadian Propane Association, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.  Along with those groups, Kenney’s backgrounder quotes the likes of TD Bank and Bank of Montréal economists, and the heads of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, plus a raft of others.

That’s not to say all these groups and individuals are necessarily right. (Who knows—some might have had second thoughts since their initial positive reactions.) But Alward’s  claim, which was echoed by other premiers and their officials, that business doesn’t really like the Canada Job Grant plan seems badly in need of concrete supporting evidence. So far, the preponderance of on-the-record private-sector opinion that I’ve seen tilts pronouncedly in favour of the federal government’s position.