Cindy Oliver: Harper government chooses half-baked approach to skills training
Provincial governments across Canada are raising the warning flag over the federal government’s announced intention to claw back funding that had been given to the Labour Market Agreement program, a funding arrangement designed to support provincial efforts to improve training in their regions. At stake in this federal-provincial tug of war is close to a half a billion in federal funding that had been earmarked for provincial governments to use to address critical skills gaps in their province.
The commitment to help support the provinces was made in 2007. At the time the Harper government was a minority government paying close attention to the concerns of provinces and the need to use federal transfers in ways that supported provincial training efforts. By 2013, however, the political tables have turned. The Harper Tories are now a majority government and feel no compulsion to listen to their provincial counterparts, let alone work cooperatively on an area where provincial governments have invested a significant amount of their budgets: postsecondary education training programs.
Federal employment minister Jason Kenny recently announced his intention to unilaterally design a new program—the Canada Jobs Grant—which will require provinces to contribute one-third of the $15,000 per trainee grant that the federal government will design and control. The other one-third partner in this program will be employers.
While having a training plan in which employers contribute is a plus, it only makes sense if it is done in the form of a levy-grant system in which all employers are required to contribute to the plan and only those that actually do the required level of training are allowed to receive funding from the system. Kenny’s plan doesn’t even accomplish half that objective. Those employers who don’t invest in training will face no penalty. Those who do invest will likely feel the pressure of being vulnerable to poaching from those who don’t, an outcome that has paralyzed effective multi-employer training programs in Canada for decades.
Cynics would argue that the only reason Kenny has opted for this half-baked approach is that he knows he will get lots of headlines for announcing the plan, but few takers. It will become an unused line item in his departmental budget, a line item that makes his budget-cutting buddies like Jim Flaherty in Finance and the prime minister just that much happier.
What a perfect solution: make it look like you’re doing something by designing a program that few will ever use.