Canada’s latest budget offers another chance for conservatives to demonstrate that they can do more than cut taxes and act as Keynesians when there’s an economic emergency.
Both the Canadian and the US economies and their deficits are moving off "red" and on to "amber." Sentient conservatives have stopped screaming about averting the next decade’s catastrophe. For moderates in office, however, it’s also time to start being creative—to pick new fights, to replace failed ideas with new ideas—or be thrown out as old bores.
Canada’s new $15,000 training grants for eligible workers and unemployed Canadians should meet that test.
Employers, the federal and provincial governments must pay $5,000 each. Everyone should have sufficient skin in the game to make sure that it leads to profitable and sustainable work as well as handsome graduating statistics at community colleges.
John Ivison, who has been writing about this rumored initiative for weeks, got officials to reveal the program’s stark rationale: it responds to the needs of employers; it will be “demand driven." In other words, the colleagues will no longer be deploying the federal government’s $500-million annual expenditures on worker training, effectively, at their discretion.
In fact, as designed, they won’t be paid any of the $15,000 unless an employer and a prospective trainee determine that the college course(s) is in their mutual interest. This will be controversial, hopefully.
(Full disclosure: In the late 80s, I helped design and implement a $5,000 voucher-training program for older workers in Ontario. It was also "demand-driven." An unemployed older worker (over 45) and a prospective employer would develop a training plan and spend the money at their discretion. Learning institutions loathed the idea, convinced the other two would waste the $5,000. It never "got out of hand," nor was it properly evaluated. It was quickly killed in a government re-organization and has never been tried again.)
Constitutionally, the federal plan is impeccable.
Despite immediate objections by Quebec and Ontario governments and Liberals and New Democrats in Ottawa, it doesn’t intrude on provincial jurisdiction and it doesn’t centralize power in Ottawa. It simply and boldly proposes re-assigning decision-making over federal monies away from provincial learning institutions to employers and individuals.
It is completely consistent with Harper’s determination to reduce federal interference and accountability in education as well as health. It’s entirely about building a competitive economy that employs more high-skilled workers as well as up-to-date capital.
Institution spokespersons and their unions will complain that the Canada Jobs Grant is philistine and suggest that it’s part of Paul Ryan’s heartless agenda leaking north.
If you believe working to produce what other people want is inferior to studying indefinitely in a publicly funded classroom, than, yes, this program is anti-intellectual.
However, it’s no more anti-intellectual than building new public transit or subsidizing the renewable energy industry.
This plan would be philistine if Stephen Harper were cutting aid to education and creating vouchers for basic education, as Republicans propose. However, worker training is, above all, about securing rewarding work for adults.
Let’s hope the Conservatives care enough about this initiative to defend it vigorously. Certainly, those it challenges are far better organized and equipped to fight than those who may benefit.