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Provinces, Kenney, meet to discuss counter-offer on Canada Job Grant

TORONTO - Officials from three provinces presented Employment Minister Jason Kenney with a counter-proposal on Tuesday to the federal government's controversial Canada Job Grant.

A spokesman for Kenney called the lengthy meeting about the counter-proposal "productive" but provided no further details about whether the feds and the provinces and territories are any closer to a deal on the national job training program.

"The federal government will take the time to carefully review the provinces' latest proposal," Nick Koolsbergen, Kenney's spokesman, said in a statement.

"We are hopeful that an agreement can be reached on the Canada Job Grant to ensure skills training actually leads to a guaranteed job and employers are putting more money into equipping Canadians for available jobs."

Representatives from emissary provinces New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia met with Kenney in Toronto after all the provinces and territories agreed to the terms of the counter-proposal last week.

“We had a productive meeting and left the room with a shared agreement to continue discussing how we can move forward together on labour market agreement renewal, including a proposed Canada Job Grant," Allen Roach, P.E.I.'s innovation minister, said in a statement..

“Minister Kenney committed to us that he would take the new alternative proposal from all provinces and territories to his cabinet colleagues."

Roach added the counter-offer from the provinces and territories encourages "employer involvement in training while protecting vulnerable Canadians."

Under the original proposal, Ottawa would have issued $15,000 grants to eligible Canadians, with the cost divided three ways between the federal government, the provinces and interested employers. The goal of the program is to compel employers to train their future and current workers, and to encourage provinces to focus on training that will result in actual employment.

Ottawa currently provides the provinces with $500 million a year in funding under existing labour market agreements that expire on March 31. Under the Job Grant, the provinces would have lost $300 million of those funds, or nearly 60 per cent.

Amid vehement opposition from the provinces and territories about the $300 million hit, the government then revised its original proposal by offering to cover the provincial share, bringing its own contribution up to $10,000 per grant.

Kenney said he accepted that the provinces didn't have the ability to match Ottawa's funding.

But Brad Duguid, Ontario’s minister of training, colleges and universities, said Kenney's revised offer would still divert $300 million from existing programs aimed at helping aboriginals, immigrants, women, youth, older workers, people with disabilities and those with low literacy levels.

The provinces and territories say they're opposed to funding the Job Grant on "the backs" of those Canadians.

Instead, they're united on measures that would give them more leeway in how they fund the program. The provincial proposals would also make it less financially onerous for small businesses to participate in the Canada Job Grant.

An official close to the talks said earlier this week that the provinces are seeking flexibility in funding that goes beyond what Kenney offered them in a revised Job Grant proposal in late December.

The Canada Job Grant is slated to take effect on April 1.

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