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Too early to tell if job program switcheroo makes sense: BC's Bell

The British Columbia government is taking a "wait and see" approach to news the federal government is planning to end $2 billion a year in transfers to the provinces for job training programs.

"Their budget's a couple weeks out, so we have to wait and see," said Pat Bell, B.C.'s minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, adding he's been in touch with the federal government's minister of human resources and skills development. "I've had some initial discussions with Diane Finley, so we're hopeful that we're going to see a program that makes sense for us, but a little early to tell that yet."

The National Post reported earlier this week that Ottawa is planning to cancel the transfers to the provinces, replacing them with a federally administered voucher system that job seekers could use to pay for the training of their choice.

This would be a reversal of the government's approach since 2008 when it began transferring money to the provinces to run programs for employment insurance recipients and other unemployed people.

"They're closer to a lot of these issues," then federal minister Monte Solberg told The Tyee at the time. "I'm pretty comfortable letting individual provinces decide what the best way is to serve the people they represent."

In B.C.'s case, the funding amounted to $366 million a year and led to a large and controversial restructuring of how job programs are delivered.

Bell said there are still two more years in the agreements, so any restructuring is at least that far in the future.

The province has its own ideas for how the programs could be changed, he said. "My concern right now is it's very constrained dollars in terms of how the money is spent, so the people that qualify are very limited. We'd like to see that opened up a bit."

There are currently constraints such as targeting the money to people who are hard to employ, he said. "We think there's an opportunity to expand that and help people who are maybe under employed to a greater degree and get them into skilled trades, that sort of thing."

Ontario's minister, for comparison, has already said publicly the federal government's reversal would be a waste of resources that would hurt out-of-work Ontarians, Global TV reported.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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