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Federal budget offers some help for apprentices, broadband access: minister

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Charlene Johnson says the good news about Tuesday's federal budget is there's no bad news.

"In terms of an impact on the revenues for the province, there's no negative impact," she told reporters outside the legislature.

"In fact, there's a slight positive impact to the tune of about $1.9 million."

Johnson cited what she called "a good sprinkling of nice initiatives" in the federal government's deficit-fighting spending blueprint. They include a tax credit for search and rescue volunteers similar to one already offered volunteer firefighters, $40 million over two years for up to 3,000 interns training in "high-demand fields" and $15 million over three years to help people with developmental disabilities land jobs.

Another $11.4 over four years is aimed at enhanced training programs for people with autism.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's budget all but balances the books this fiscal year, leaving a $2.9-billion shortfall heading into the 2015 election year that paves the way for a timely return to surplus.

Johnson said the proof will be in the fine print.

"But certainly it was good to see an apprenticeship loan program there in the budget. We'll need to get further details on that, but I would say that's something that will greatly impact the people of this province with the skilled labour needs that are on the horizon for the years to come."

Johnson said talks are ongoing to reach the best possible deal on the federal government's push to train workers for unfilled jobs through the Canada Job Grant. First announced as $15,000 grants to be divided evenly between Ottawa, the provinces and employers, the program fell flat with provinces over concerns money would be siphoned from funding for vulnerable populations.

Ottawa has since offered to cover the provincial share.

Johnson said there's optimism that a provincial counter-proposal in early February will mean a deal "that we can all live with."

She said she also wants to hear more about $305 million the budget earmarks over five years to expand broadband high-speed Internet access in rural regions and the North.

Improving online services in virtually all remote communities has been a key goal for the province.

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