Provinces are preparing to announce an agreement-in-principle with Ottawa over the proposed Canada Job Grant, but Quebec will not sign on, and Nova Scotia is still pushing for changes.
Provincial officials were working late on Thursday on the wording of an announcement after premiers spoke favourably of Ottawa's "final" offer during an afternoon conference call.
Sources in several provinces told The Globe a deal has been reached and will likely be announced on Friday, but Nova Scotia is adamant that it still has strong concerns.
"Nova Scotia has still very much not accepted the agreement from the federal government at this point. We're still very much in negotiation," said Chrissy Matheson, a Nova Scotia government spokesperson with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education.
Reaching a deal is an important goal for Ottawa given that the Canada Job Grant is a key part of the government's economic message. Federal Conservatives have repeatedly stressed the importance of training unemployed Canadians so that they qualify for available jobs, particularly in the skilled trades.
Quebec's refusal to participate does not come as a surprise, as the province has insisted since Ottawa announced the idea last year that it rejects the plan and wants full compensation.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney has given the provinces until Friday to respond to his latest offer, which he described as final when it was delivered last week. His spokesperson, Nick Koolsbergen, said Thursday evening that Ottawa has not yet heard from the provinces.
Provincial sources noted that opinions varied considerably among the premiers during Friday's conference call. Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil voiced strong concerns, sources say. British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan – where job shortages are a pressing concern – have been the most supportive of the federal plan.
Ontario had been a strong critic, but Labour Minister Brad Duguid gave the latest offer a positive response this week.
Public comments this week from several provincial labour ministers were positive toward Ottawa's latest offer. Thomas Lukaszuk, Alberta's Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, recently told The Globe and Mail it is important to have a national program because Canadians trained in one province could end up working in another.
Some provincial sources said it is possible the agreement-in-principle could allow provinces to continue one-on-one talks with Ottawa to work out specific details. That option might allow reluctant ones such as Nova Scotia to sign on, although the province insisted Thursday it has not agreed to anything.
The job grant would provide individuals with up to $15,000 in training toward an available job. In the latest offer, Ottawa would cover up to $10,000 of the cost of each grant, and a business that is looking to hire someone would cover the rest.
Provinces would administer the program.
Ottawa's latest offer would give the provinces much more flexibility over how they budget the $300-million they will be expected to contribute. That means they could use any of the existing $2.5-billion Ottawa transfers to the provinces to deliver training, or they could use other funds.
Provinces had objected to Ottawa's previous insistence that they pay their share of the program using $300-million of a $500-million transfer called Labour Market Agreements meant to help workers who find it difficult to get jobs.