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Politics Pressing for changes to Canada Jobs Grant, Ontario threatens to pull out

Brad Duguid is Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Canada's largest province is joining the call for changes to Ottawa's proposed jobs grant and threatening to opt out if its demands are not met.

On Thursday, the federal government indicated that it is open to hearing ideas as it sorts out exactly how the program will work, setting the stage for negotiations between Ottawa and the provinces as they tackle the country's skills mismatch.

The Canada Jobs Grant, announced earlier this year, would redirect some federal funds from existing skills programs to a new system in which employers would apply for money to train people for specific jobs. The grant is aimed at tailoring training to the work force's needs by making sure people learn skills for available jobs.

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But Ontario Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Brad Duguid says the federal government should not find the money for the grant by pulling funding from existing programs that serve youth, First Nations, people with disabilities and other groups that need extra help getting work.

"We're not prepared to just dump vulnerable, out-of-work Ontarians on the sidelines in favour of programs that are just going to focus on … less challenged people that are out of work in our system," Mr. Duguid said in an interview.

By his calculation, the grant would redirect $116-million away from such programs in Ontario.

He has outlined his concerns in a letter to Diane Finley, federal Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. Because the proposed system requires matching funds from the provinces, Ottawa must make a deal to get it up and running.

"The federal government has been making a lot out of this program, advertising it like crazy – you can't watch a hockey game these days without seeing one of their ads – so when you look at the amount of political importance they're placing on this Canada Jobs Grant, it's going to be a bust if Ontario's not a big part of it," he said.

Ms. Finley's office struck a conciliatory note, saying the details of the grant will be worked out with the provinces and territories. Ms. Finley regularly sits down with her counterparts at other levels of government, her spokesman said, and "welcomes feedback and suggestions."

"The detailed design of the grant will be negotiated with provinces and territories over the next year in consultation with stakeholders, including employer associations, educational institutions and labour organizations. We value hearing directly from people involved in skills and employment training initiatives," Jan O'Driscoll wrote in an e-mail.

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Ontario is not the first province to raise concerns about the program. Quebec rejected it as a federal intrusion. Other finance ministers wondered where they would find the money to match Ottawa's funds. And British Columbia has expressed the same trepidation as Ontario over the possibility of shutting down current training programs.

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