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Change the Canada Job Grant or else: Clark to Ottawa

[Editor's note: This report comes from iPolitics, a source for independent, non-partisan political scuttlebutt in Canada.]

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is warning Ottawa that unless the Canada Job Grant is drastically revised, provinces will not participate in the plan.

Clark told media following a skilled labour meeting in Toronto that provinces wanted to retain $300 million in federal labour training money Ottawa plans to put toward the grant, and that small businesses could not be expected to put $5,000 toward training.

"Restore the $300 million, take away barriers for small businesses and take away barriers that would make it hard to work with underrepresented groups in the employment sector," Clark said at a joint press conference with New Brunswick premier David Alward after a meeting with 33 private sector labour leaders.

"That would be a good start."

The grant, a cornerstone of the 2014 budget, is short on details but will see employers, businesses and the federal government invest $5,000 toward a $15,000 grant Canadians can access to get skills training.

Clark added that while she agreed with several goals of the grant -- like increasing accountability of labour training funds and giving employers a bigger role in training -- she said provinces weren't willing to sign the grant as it is.

"All premiers agreed that the program as it stands will not go ahead in any province."

One of the biggest objections to the program is that it would transfer $300 million from a $500 million annual labour training pool Ottawa sends to the provinces to provide job support for aboriginals, those with literacy issues and others who struggle to find work.

"We cannot afford... to leave anyone behind," Alward said about diverting money from existing programs that serve chronically underemployed people.

The meeting comes after premiers across Canada chose Clark and Alward to lead provincial negotiations on the issue with Ottawa at a meeting of premiers in July. It also follows repeated calls from provinces for a meetings with federal skills minister Jason Kenney.

While a joint meeting date has not been set, officials say talks could happen later this month or early November.

Given strong provincial opposition to the grant, however, a compromise on the April 2014 program is expected, with Ottawa indicating the grant is not set in stone.

Clark, whose government (along with Alberta's) is believed to be among those more supportive of the grant because of B.C.'s links to the oilsands and its chronic worker shortages -- said she was "hopeful" the two sides would come to an agreement soon.

"If we don't invest in skills training, we will lose out on the opportunity of a lifetime," Clark said.

Olesia Plokhii reports for iPolitics, where this article first appeared.

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