One of the harshest provincial critics of the proposed Canada Job Grant is welcoming the latest changes from Ottawa, a development that suggests a deal is within reach.
Brad Duguid, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, has been front and centre over the past 12 months attacking what he has described as a "nonsensical" federal plan that would hurt vulnerable Canadians.
Mr. Duguid was largely mum on Friday after federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney delivered a "final" offer to the provinces that Ottawa wants to see approved before the end of this week.
But in an interview with The Globe on Monday ahead of a key conference call with his fellow labour ministers, Mr. Duguid struck a different tone.
"This is a positive response from the federal government," he said, adding that he personally thanked Mr. Kenney during a phone call over the weekend. "We have come a long way from the original proposal."
Still, Ontario and the other provinces aren't ready to give a final stamp of approval just yet.
"These are complex transfers so we need to do the work to make sure that we're very aware of what the consequences are to our programs," Mr. Duguid said, "but I don't anticipate a long period of waiting."
Labour ministers and their officials studied Mr. Kenney's proposal over the weekend and will be discussing their findings by phone Tuesday afternoon. It is unlikely that a deal would be announced after the meeting, given that provincial premiers would need to have the final say.
The Canada Job Grant, which was first announced in the March, 2013, budget, is a centrepiece of the federal government's effort to match Canadians with the skilled jobs that are currently going to temporary foreign workers or being left unfilled.
Mr. Kenney is working the phones this week to win over his provincial and territorial counterparts. Meanwhile, provincial public servants are phoning their contacts in Ottawa in an effort to better understand parts of Mr. Kenney's letter that are considered vague.
Ottawa's latest offer gives the provinces much more flexibility over how they budget the $300-million they will be expected to contribute to the grant. That means they could use any of the existing $2.5-billion Ottawa transfers to the provinces to deliver training or provinces could use other funds.
Provinces had objected to Ottawa's previous insistence that they fund the program using $300-million of a $500-million transfer called Labour Market Agreements meant to help vulnerable workers.
The job grant would provide individuals with up to $15,000 in training toward an available job.
The challenge for the provinces is in the details. Provinces will have more flexibility, but they will still need to cut back somewhere.
"Is [the grant] raising a question mark for those groups that are dependent on government funding to do the great work that they do? I'm sure it is," said Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour. "But they also know that I will not abandon them because I value the work that they do."
Mr. Lukaszuk points to Women Building Futures as an example of a successful program that trains women for skilled construction jobs, but also helps with potential social barriers such as food, child care and transportation.
He said it's very important that Ottawa and the provinces come to a training arrangement that works across the country, in part to alleviate the need for employers to hire temporary foreign workers.
"Individuals who will be brought to employability in Nova Scotia could very well end up working in Alberta or vice versa," he said. "So from a pan-Canadian perspective, it's very important that it works for everybody."