Monday, December 7, 2009

Diane Finley Fails Unemployed Canadians Again

If you think the Economic Action Plan was a complete bust, the so-called retraining of unemployed Canadians barely got off the ground.

In Diane's defense, she is not really running the ministry. Ryan Sparrow is, and his priorities are how to engineer the program to obtain votes, without actually helping those in need.

The Reformers have made the program so difficult to qualify for, that it was never really a program at all.

Some people believe that the reason for no action, is that they want to show that I have all this money in the bank at the end of it, and we are not in deficit at all. I don't believe it. Because what they are saving on not providing help to struggling Canadians, they are more than making up for in military spending and self-promotion.

They also need that deficit to justify the dismantling of the "welfare state".

But if it's true, that they are sitting on our money, they'd better get it out there, because homelessness is on the rise and our food banks are running out of food.

Federal program to spur job retraining falls flat
Norma Greenaway, Canwest News Service
December 06, 2009

OTTAWA - A much-touted federal program designed to encourage auto, manufacturing and other workers to retrain if they are jobless after years of employment is proving a near bust.

Promoted by the Harper government as a measure that would lure as many as 50,000 people into retraining by early next year, it has attracted only about 6,000 takers so far, according to the government's own numbers.

Indeed, the government acknowledges in its latest report card on its "economic action plan" that it now anticipates a maximum uptake of 20,000 -- less than half of its original estimate -- by the time access to the program is cut off in May.

"The program is proving to be a dud as they have set it up," said Laurell Ritchie, a national representative with the Canadian Auto Workers union. "So, they need to fix it. And fast."

The program for "long-tenured workers" provides up to two years of Employment Insurance benefits to those registered in authorized training courses on condition that: they were laid off after Jan. 25 of this year; they have worked seven of the last 10 years; and they have not collected more than 35 weeks of EI benefits in the past five years. Those who use part of their severance package on retraining are given earlier access to the EI benefits. The government earmarked $500-million for the initiative.

Ms. Ritchie said the program is overly restrictive and leaves thousands of jobless men and women with no chance of qualifying.

A big problem, she said, is that many manufacturing and resource-based jobs were lost in 2008, first to a strong Canadian dollar and later to the economic recession that swept over Canada and the world.

Ms. Ritchie said local union offices are being bombarded with complaints from unemployed workers who have discovered their hopes of retraining as a cook, trucker or health-care worker are out the window because they were laid off last year and don't qualify for the program.

Ms. Ritchie praised the EI retraining program for recognizing that people need income support while they learn a new profession or trade. But she said the program must be revamped to allow participation by all jobless workers who are prepared to enrol in approved training, regardless of how long they have worked and when they got laid off.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley says she wishes the participation was greater, and doesn't rule out adjustments to the program down the road.

"We're tracking all of our programs that are there to help people get back to work. And we're keeping very close tabs on them to see what, if anything, needs to be done next," Finley told Canwest News Service.

For now, though, she blames the poor uptake on poor promotion. "Many people who do qualify, unfortunately, aren't aware of the program," Ms. Finley said.

Ms. Finley said the government is writing letters to potential recruits, launching an "awareness" campaign at its Service Canada outlets and working with the provinces to spread the word.

Ms. Finley has the reverse problem with one of the other EI programs announced in the government's economic action plan. It has become wildly popular and industries are already lobbying for a one-year extension to March 2011.

Known as work sharing, it has been around a long time and helps companies in such sectors as forestry, oil and gas and manufacturing stay afloat in tough economic times by providing EI benefits to top up the wages of employees who work a reduced week.

Under the enhanced program, work-sharing agreements were extended by 14 weeks to 52 weeks, and a requirement was waived that said companies could not have access to the program for 26 weeks after a work-sharing agreement expires.

A total of 225,000 workers have participated in the enhanced program, and officials say they expect spending to exceed the $200-million earmarked for the initiative.

Andrew Casey of the Forest Products Association of Canada said the program is a lifesaver for such businesses as lumber mills because it allows them to keep running at a lower level of production and keep a highly skilled staff instead of having to close down.

The association and the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters are among groups pressing for an extension.

"If we can just get through this next year, we're in good shape," Mr. Casey said. "We see the markets rebounding at the end of 2010. Anything that can get us through the period is going to be the perfect thing."

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