Two Atlantic provinces show some interest in federal government skills program

Two Atlantic provinces left open the possibility of participating in a new program announced Thursday in the federal budget that would provide skills training for Canadian workers.

But Nova Scotia Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Jerome Kennedy say they need more details before jumping on board.

“We get so little moneys that any time we can receive any money with matching funds, we generally invest in that,” Kennedy said of the Canada Job Grant program.

Newfoundland and Labrador has not received federal equalization payments, which help provide comparable public services across Canada, since becoming a so-called “have” province in 2008.

Kennedy said a decision will be made closer to next year when the skills training program would start.

MacDonald said she won’t know what the plan’s prospects are for Nova Scotia until the province holds negotiations with Ottawa.

“We totally are on the same page around having training programs and apprenticeship programs that help people get jobs for which employers are having difficulty filling,” she said. “But how we negotiate those agreements is really important and that’s yet to be determined.”

The cost of the program for the province is one area where MacDonald has questions.

“We’ll have to go through the process of negotiating and see where we land,” she added. “It could be a cost for the province, absolutely, in a subsequent year. We don’t know what that will be, what that looks like.”

The revamped plan for skills training wouldn’t go into effect until April 2014 and is contingent on negotiations with the provinces, who are expected to foot the bill for a third of each $15,000 training grant. Ottawa and the worker’s employer would also spend $5,000 each.

Overall, Kennedy described the federal spending plan as a fairly bland, stay-the-course strategy.

“It’s not an exciting budget, but it’s not one that has any great surprises for us either,” he said outside the legislature in St. John’s.

Kennedy did give his tentative backing to a federal plan that allows greater flexibility for how gas tax money can be used in local communities for infrastructure projects, saying it looks promising.

“There’s not a lot of detail at this point but it seems to be a good initiative.”

New Brunswick Finance Minister Blaine Higgs wasn’t available to react to the federal budget but released an emailed statement that commiserated with Ottawa.

“The federal government is struggling with the same economic realities and revenue challenges as New Brunswick is right now and you are seeing a budget that reflects that,” he said.

“They are investing in things such as innovation, infrastructure and skills training, which have been focuses for our government as well.”

In Nova Scotia, the government has promised to balance the books when it brings in its budget next month.

MacDonald said there were no surprises in the federal budget that will affect her financial course.

“Everything is as we expected. There’s nothing in the federal budget tonight that will impact the provincial budget.”

— By Melanie Patten in Halifax, Kevin Bissett in Fredericton and Sue Bailey in St. John’s, N.L.