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Deal reached on Canada Job Grant with provs, territories, except Quebec

Copies of the Federal Budget are pilled on a desk with New Canada Job Grant pamphlets attached in Ottawa on Thursday March 21, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

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Copies of the Federal Budget are pilled on a desk with New Canada Job Grant pamphlets attached in Ottawa on Thursday March 21, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA - Ottawa has reached a deal on the Canada Job Grant with all the provinces and territories except Quebec, Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Friday.

"At the end of the day, this will be a win-win for both sides," Kenney told a news conference at the Manning convention, an annual networking conference of conservatives.

He made the announcement during an address to the conference while former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, the conference's namesake, beamed on from the front row of the audience. The crowd applauded when Kenney announced the deal on the crown jewel of the government's 2013 budget.

Yet despite Kenney's triumphant announcement, there's still no deal with Quebec.

The feds are still in discussions with Quebec, which has long balked at the idea of Ottawa treading on what is seen as an area of provincial jurisdiction.

And Nova Scotia officials still have concerns, particularly on the issue of employer involvement in the national job training program. All of the provinces still have to work out the details bilaterally with the federal Conservatives, a source said.

Kenney said he planned to have further "productive" discussions on the Canada Job Grant later Friday with Quebec Labour Minister Agn�s Maltais. He added that Quebec has a unique work training program favoured by Ottawa because it so heavily involves employers.

Nova Scotia, meantime, said Friday it had "secured an agreement with the federal government to ensure that Nova Scotia's concerns with the Canada Job Grant are addressed."

"The current Canada Job Grant program requires employers to contribute funding up front," Premier Stephen McNeil said in a statement following a phone call with Kenney.

"Many businesses in the province have said they will not be able to participate under this arrangement."

The deal-in-principle allows the provinces and territories much more flexibility in how they fund the Canada Job Grant, a previous sticking point during months of negotiations.

Provinces were loath to take their $300-million share of the job grant entirely from the so-called labour market agreement, a federal transfer that pays for job training for the country's most marginalized citizens — those who don't qualify for employment insurance.

"That effectively means that provinces that decide to deliver the job grant would not have to reallocate any money out of the labour market agreement itself," Kenney said.

Instead, the minister added, he's asked the provinces to direct their funds to "employer-led" training. Labour market studies have shown Canadian employers used to provide more job training in the early 1990s, but have dropped off in recent years.

Originally, the plan aimed to provide $15,000 for each eligible worker, with the cost divided equally between Ottawa, the provinces and employers.

But the provinces and territories refused, saying Ottawa would claw back federal cash for successful job-training programs run by the provinces, while forcing them to find millions more to cover their portion of the grant.

Almost all the provinces and territories said earlier this week they supported Kenney's latest offer. The premiers reached an agreement-in-principle during a conference call Thursday.

Concerns remain, nonetheless, that the deal still represents a cut in funding to the provinces and territories.

"We still think there's some significant risk for vulnerable members of our communities not to get all the opportunities they need to participate in labour market training," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger at an energy conference in Toronto.

"And we're also concerned that it may put some additional pressure on small businesses to put up cash that they don't have."

"However, we're working together in such a way that if any of the bilaterals generate some significant improvements, we can all see the advantage of that and have the advantage of that applying in our jurisdictions as well."

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, also at the Manning convention on Friday, said he was pleased by the deal because it requires employer involvement.

"There's a better chance that there's meaningful employment if the employer is part of the training investment," he said.

He added Kenney made a "significant move" earlier this month on the job grant that allowed the provinces to sign on.

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