Whistler’s mayor and council have voiced their opposition to Ottawa’s proposed Canada Job Grant, saying the controversial program that would require companies to pay for a portion of employee skills training would be too costly for the resort’s small business owners.
The Canada Job Grant, introduced in March’s federal budget, proposes splitting the cost of skills training for employees three ways, with up to $5,000 from Ottawa, a province and the employer.
“Because most employers in British Columbia are small business owners, they’re simply not going to be able to afford to make that kind of investment in employee training, particularly if there’s no guarantee that the employee will hang around after being trained,” said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden Monday (Oct. 7), who submitted a letter to the federal government outlining her concerns following last week’s council meeting.
Coun. Andrée Janyk echoed the mayor’s comments, and said the grant would reduce “the possibility of us working with our schools and our educational institutes to actually provide programs that would increase our own citizens getting those trade qualifications” during last Tuesday’s
(Oct. 1) council meeting.
The proposed grant has also drawn criticism from provincial officials, with the main objection surrounding Ottawa’s plan to pull back $300 million of an annual $500-million Labour Market Agreements transfer to provinces to cover its portion of the job grants. Currently, the $500 million is used to train under-represented groups not eligible for Employment Insurance, including youth, aboriginal people, immigrants and those with disabilities.
New Whistler Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin also weighed in on the proposed grant in an email to The Question, saying it will only stilt B.C.’s economy.
“Small businesses make up 98 per cent of businesses in B.C. so, to be effective in the enhancement of skills training leading to economic growth, we would encourage the federal government to be flexible in the design and implementation of the plan in an effort to address small businesses’ needs, for example, ensuring that private-sector training is eligible for the grant and reducing the amount small businesses need to pay to access the grants,” he said.
Following increasing opposition, the federal government admitted it was willing to make concessions to get the provinces on-board. In a recent letter to Canada’s Building Trades Council, federal Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney admitted a “one-size-approach” to the grant would not be effective, and sought to clear up some misconceptions surrounding the program.
He said employers would not be required to contribute $5,000 in training costs per worker, only that they match a portion of the training costs, with Ottawa kicking up to a maximum of $5,000.
“As the employer will determine which type of training is necessary, in many cases the employer portion may be significantly less than $5,000,” he wrote.
He also promised a reduction in the program’s required paperwork, so that employers need only apply to one level of government for the grants, not two. The federal government has also suggested a group of businesses or employers could team up to administer an approved training program for employees.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail Tuesday (Oct. 8), Kenney also said Ottawa is prepared to remove one of the program’s tenets that would force training funds to be separated into two categories: money for those on Employment Insurance, and a smaller amount for those who aren’t. The minister said this would allow provinces to find the money needed to take part in the program.
The grant program is expected to come into effect next year, and should result in 130,000 Canadians annually obtaining the training needed to fill available jobs, according to the federal government