The federal government has agreed to two key demands from the provinces and territories on its contentious Canada Job Grant, a development that could pave the way for a deal on the national job-training program, The Canadian Press has learned.
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney sent what he called a final counter-proposal to his provincial and territorial counterparts on Friday that addresses the primary obstacles to an agreement.
The offer, obtained by The Canadian Press, states that the federal government "agrees with the main request by provinces and territories in their most recent offer and will allow maximum flexibility in the source of funding for the program."
That means, essentially, that the provinces and territories can commit $300 million to the job grant from whatever federal funds they choose — or from their own coffers. They had railed against being forced to use money from so-called labour-market agreements, the federal cash the provinces insist successfully provides job training to their most marginalized citizens.
Ottawa, meantime, will continue to transfer $2.1 billion a year in training-related funds to the provinces.
The counter-proposal also reiterates that the provinces are not required to match Ottawa's contribution to the program. As well, the provinces now have until July 1 to start delivering the Canada Job Grant, instead of the original April 1 deadline.
The provinces and territories received the counter-proposal on Friday. Some provincial officials sounded upbeat.
"After receiving the federal government's response, I look forward to reviewing and discussing it with my provincial and territorial colleagues, as well as with our respective premiers," said P.E.I. Innovation Minister Allen Roach, one of three provincial officials leading the negotiations with Ottawa.
Cabinet colleague Jim Flaherty lacked a similar diplomatic touch last week when he slammed the provinces for complaining about the job program.
“Job training in Canada is not provincial tax money, it's federal tax money," Flaherty said.
"And it’s not for a provincial government to tell the federal government how to spend federal tax money. The provincial governments have taxation powers; they can raise their own taxes."