If the federal government is footing the bill for a jobs training program, shouldn’t it be able to dictate the terms of the program?
Well, that depends if the goal is to claim credit for the money spent and to control the program, as opposed to actually doing some wider good.
Now, if you propose to pay less and split the cost three ways, can you still dictate terms?
If you’re federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney, I suppose you can. All the more so if one the partners paying for this is business. When business and federal conservative ideology align, that’s pretty much an unstoppable force.
So the provinces complained last week that — once again — the dictatorial federal government tramples provincial rights and unilaterally imposes major changes to funding agreements. Yeah, that and five bucks will get you a latte.
Complaining about federal dictators didn’t help two years ago when the feds just up and announced that funding for health care would be capped, leaving the provinces to figure out for themselves what happens next.
The difference between the health announcement and the jobs deal is that while health-care costs are rising with little progress to show for it, the current Labour Market Agreement is actually working well.
For unemployed people, that is. Not so much for the feds, and for specific industries that can’t find people with the specific skills they need to make their industries grow.
The current agreement will expire in March. The new deal was broadly announced in the budget last spring.
But there was never a meeting between the federal government and the provinces to get into details, or to explain how this will work (or not, as the case may be).
Until just recently.
There was a recent meeting between the premiers and Kenney, which was described as “frosty.”
The provinces told Kenney he was destroying an existing formula that works very well, while Kenney just stuck to Conservative speaking points.
CBC News reports that with the existing agreement, the vast majority of participants are still employed in their provinces two years later.
In B.C., where 94,000 workers have gone through the federally-funded agreement, two-thirds are working. That province is already looking for 100,000 more skilled workers to build their liquefied natural gas pipelines and seaport.
In Saskatchewan, under the existing plan, fully 60 per cent of participants are aboriginal, who already live close to where that province’s new jobs will be located.
The provinces assert that aboriginals, youth, older workers needing to change careers due to layoffs, people on social assistance or who have been unemployed for a long time — these are the people who stand to lose most, if Kenney’s changes are imposed as proposed.
Tough beans, says Kenney. We already spend billions on aboriginals, the disabled, people on welfare, etc. If the provinces want an additional employment readiness program for them, they can fund it themselves.
The new Canada Jobs Grant (better named and branded for the federal government) cuts $200 million from the existing $500 million agreement. It will require two matching funding shares from each of participating businesses and the provinces, for a total of $15,000 per participant.
So, for a maximum $5,000 investment, the feds can claim $15,000 worth of success — if the provinces choose to participate. If not, tough, says Kenney.
“If they don’t want to participate at all, then I’ve been clear that we will end up delivering a job grant directly in those provinces that do participate,” he said in an interview.
Reading from the usual script that vilifies all dissent, he says the existing programs merely turn most of their participants into habitual welfare recipients anyway.
The Canada Jobs Grant virtually guarantees you a job, says the government. That is, if you want a job requiring hard physical labour, some risk of serious injury or death if things go wrong, working 12-hour shifts round the clock in a cold, remote part of the country. But for serious, serious cash.
And once the pipelines and ports are built, you can apply for another grant to pursue that career you always wanted in anthropology, right?
Just as with the health funding announcement, the provinces will probably just have to take it. In Ottawa’s eyes, consultation and negotiation are highly overrated.
And anyone who doesn’t fit the federal cookie-cutter is just a parasite, anyway.
Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at readersadvocate.blogspot.ca or email email@example.com.