Provincial labour ministers are expressing disappointment with Ottawa's latest proposal for the Canada Job Grant, noting that Ottawa continues to insist on major cuts to provincial transfers.
After a conference call on Friday to discuss federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney's Dec. 24 proposal, the ministers sent a letter to Mr. Kenney that makes it clear the two sides are still far from a deal.
In a statement released late Friday evening, Mr. Kenney said provinces need to show some flexibility.
"The federal government has listened to provinces' concerns and significantly restructured the offer based on their feedback," he said. "We hope to receive a formal counter offer from the provinces shortly, and we hope provincial governments show a willingness to also be flexible in these negotiations. We remain prepared to deliver the Canada Job Grant ourselves if an agreement with the provinces is not met."
The original plan was to offer up to $15,000 for individual Canadians for job training, with the cost of each grant split evenly between Ottawa, the person's home province and a business looking to hire.
On Dec. 24, Mr. Kenney said provinces would no longer have to contribute to the grants.
"While we appreciate that provincial-territorial cost-matching requirements were removed in your revised offer, we continue to have fundamental concerns," PEI Labour Minister Allen Roach wrote as co-chair of the Forum of Labour Ministers.
The federal government surprised the provinces by announcing the Canada Job Grant in the 2013 budget. Provinces object to the fact that Ottawa plans to pay its share of the program by gradually reducing their labour market agreement transfers to $200-million a year from $500-million a year. The transfers finance training for groups that do not qualify for employment insurance, including immigrants, the disabled, aboriginal people, youth and older workers. The Dec. 24 offer would still reduce the LMA funding.
"Ministers are united in their concerns and expressed disappointment that you continue to propose to fund the Canada Job Grant through substantial cuts to LMA programs," the letter said.
"These programs serve our most vulnerable Canadians and have demonstrated positive results. Provinces and territories are committed to taking concrete steps to achieve a renewed LMA that emphasizes employer engagement while protecting services for vulnerable Canadians. We would appreciate the opportunity to engage with you in the near future to present a formal response to the revised federal offer."
The federal government wants to have the program in place by April 1 and has said that it will go it alone if it is unable to obtain provincial support.