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2013 Conservative budget focuses on jobs, but not helping students

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CUP Ottawa Bureau Chief 

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presents the federal budget that was heavy on job creation but did little to help out Canada’s students.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presents the federal budget that was heavy on job creation but did little to help out Canada’s students.

OTTAWA (CUP) — Wearing brand new budget shoes, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced Economic Action Plan 2013 on March 21.

Titled “Jobs, Growth, and Economic Prosperity,” the budget introduces market-oriented skills training, job creation measures and aims to balance the books by 2015.

However, the opposition is not optimistic the Tories can keep their budgetary promises.

“These predictions are wrong,” said NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. “That’s what we’ve constantly seen.”

Bob Rae, interim leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, also disliked the budget, calling it “the same old propaganda.”

“It has very unlikely targets as to where the revenue picture is going to go over the next couple of years,” Rae said. “It’s a rhetorical document. It’s an excursive of political relic.”

One of the main features of the budget is the Canada Jobs Grant. The program will provide job seekers with $5,000 for skills training, which the federal government hopes will be matched by an additional $10,000 from provincial governments and employers.

The grant will create opportunities for apprentices and provide support to help underrepresented groups, such as youth and aboriginals, find employment.

However, Rae said the government could do more for unemployed Canadians.

“There’s no new money,” he said. “It’s money that’s going to be delayed for several years. It’s money that now requires an equal amount from provinces and employers. It’s actually a whole lot less when you consider the size and extent of employment.”

With the grant, businesses that can provide skills training — such as community and career colleges — will be eligible to receive up to $5,000 for each person they train. The businesses’ and provinces’ contributions will have to match the federal government. The program will be finalized after renewal negotiations of the Labour Market Development Agreements in 2014-15 with the provinces and territories.

Flaherty said he can’t guarantee all provinces will sign off on the grant, but remains optimistic about the plan.

The Conservatives “listen to businesses and persons who are unemployed,” Flaherty said. “We have a problem and we have to fix it. I think the provincial governments will listen to… employers.”

Adam Awad, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said that while the grant is a step in the right direction it’s not enough for students. He was disappointed with the budget and felt the government could do more to address student issues.

“It’s definitely disappointing. It doesn’t do much for students at all,” Awad said. “It doesn’t address the main issues of debt and access to education.

“Canadian businesses are… failing to provide this training regardless. It’s not the government’s responsibility to pay businesses to do their own job. It would have been much better to provide that funding directly into the education system.”

In addition to the Canada Jobs Grant, the government announced promotion of education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and skilled trades, all of which are considered high-demand.

As a part of the grant, $19 million will be reallocated over two years to informing youth about those fields of study and the career opportunities stemming from them. The budget does detail where the funding will be reallocated from.

A total of $70 million over three years will be invested in 5,000 paid internships for recent post-secondary graduates. They will be added on to the 3,000 internships already created by Economic Action Plan 2012.

The Canadian Youth Business Foundation will receive $18 million over two years if the foundation can raise $15 million to match federal funding. The non-profit organization helps young entrepreneurs develop their business by providing mentorship, advice and other resources. The government hopes this will help the foundation become self-sustainable.

Awad said the funds to help youth find employment are not “addressing the main concern.”

The government has also allocated money for research that will involve undergraduate students. Research funding will see $37 million per year to support partnerships with industry through the granting councils, including an additional $12 million annually for the College and Community Innovation Program. The CCIP supports collaboration between colleges and industry on research projects.

The granting councils will expand eligibility for their undergraduate and industrial internships and scholarships to students who are enrolled in college bachelor programs.

Awad added the primary issue is student debt, as students are “unable to take risks” once they graduate because of the money they owe.

“While the money for the apprenticeship programs and grants are better than nothing, it’s nowhere near what needs to happen,” Awad said.

With files from Christopher Radojewski

Photo: Jane Lytvynenko/Canadian University Press

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