The federal government tabled its 2018 budget on February 27th while I happened to be vacationing in sunny Cuba (the nerve, indeed!). Hence, this not particularly timely post with my take on the budget.
Budget 2018 is built on a strong gender-based analysis with almost every provision linked back to how it supports Canadian women. The budget integrates
considerations of gender impacts at each step of the budgeting process and introduce(es) a new Gender Results Framework…In Budget 2018, no budget decision was taken without being informed by Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+).
I’m not sure if this is done in other countries, but it strikes me as fairly innovative.
Here are some items in the budget which directly impact adult skills and training.
Horizontal Skills Review
Over next year, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) will review all the programs that relate to skills in order to maximize effectiveness. $750,000 has been set aside for this review.
While the budget does not mention how many programs will be part of the review, I can imagine there are quite a few. Last year’s budget charged TBS with conducting a review of ‘innovation’ programs. That review found some 92 programs. Budget 2018 outlines how these programs are now organized around 4 ‘platforms’ with a reduced number of about 35+ programs. This review might be used as the template for the horizontal skills review.
Labour Market Transfer Agreements
Last year’s budget announced $2.7 billion over six years for the new Labour Market Transfer Agreements (LMTAs) which cover the Labour Market Development Agreements and a new agreement called the Workforce Development Agreement (WDA). The WDA combines the Canada Job Fund, the Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities and the Targeted Older Worker Initiative into one agreement.
Budget 2017 committed $2.7 billion in new funding for the labour market transfer agreements distributed over six years between two agreements.
- $900M nationally over six years, starting in 2017-18 for the new Workforce Development Agreements
- $1.8B nationally over six years, starting in 2017-18 for the Labour Market Development Agreements
While funding began in the current fiscal year (2017-18), no LMTA has been signed. Budget 2018 states they will come into force April 1, 2018. This seems to mean that Year 1 funding for the new LMTAs is being spent according to the provisions of the ‘old’ transfer agreements.
Negotiations of the new LMTAs have taken place between the federal government and the provinces/territories behind closed doors. I’ve been unable to obtain any information on the details of either the re-negotiated LMDAs or the new WDAs.
I was interested to read in the GBA+ section of the budget the following commentary on labour market programming:
The indirect nature of these programs—administered by provinces and territories—represents a challenge to measuring how investments ultimately meet the needs of different groups of women and men. Current negotiations between federal, provincial and territorial governments on Labour Market Transfer Agreements provide an opportunity to achieve program goals, while providing additional flexibility to provinces and territories, expanding eligibility and focusing on outcomes.
While this commentary is not new to anyone working within the labour market agreements, I was encouraged to see the federal government name one of the key challenges of the agreements.
Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program
The Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy will be re-named once again. The Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program will receive $447 million in new money over 5 years. The program has been divided into four streams to better serve the distinct needs of Indigenous People – First Nations, Métis, Inuit and urban/non-affiliated.
The program will be re-focused on “training for higher quality better paying jobs rather than rapid re-employment.” The Indigenous Skills and Employment Training Program,
…as a result of gender-based analysis, wrap-around services, such as child care, will also ensure that Indigenous women can better access skills development and training opportunities offered by the program’s service delivery organizations.
Higher quality, better paying jobs and wrap around supports should be part of every Labour Market Transfer Agreement.
Other areas of interest:
- New funding of $400 million over 5 years in support of the Action Plan for Official Languages 2018-2023. RESDAC has previously accessed funding from the action plan to support official language minority communities’ literacy needs.
- Enhancements to Employment Insurance. Donna Wood has written an excellent commentary on the Budget 2018 changes which you can access at “The Welfare State Matters…” https://donnaewood.wordpress.com/2018/03/02/some-comments-on-the-2018-federal-budget/.
- An Education and Labour Market Longitudinal Linkage Platform will track and make available labour market information. However, this will be funded out of existing Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) funds. It is not clear how this initiative will relate to the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) of the Forum of Labour Market Ministers – duplication or enhancement?
- Recognition of barriers including lower language and literacy levels of visible minority newcomer women through a three-year pilot project with $31.8 million of funding over three years.
- ESDC will reallocate $7.8 million of its existing money over 5 years to help community organizations build their capacity to pursue government contracts or maximize available funding opportunities. I was not able to find any further details about how this funding would work, but it certainly could be helpful to many in the non-profit sector.
- A Future Skills Lab, first announced in Budget 2017, is designed to
- Identify the skills sought and required by Canadian workers
- Explore new and innovative approaches to skills development
- Share information and analysis to help inform future skills investment and programming
Budget 2018 announces that the Future Skills Lab will be launched in spring 2018. Again, there are few details. The biggest challenge for a skills lab will be its governance model. A recent report from the Mowat Centre concluded:
The skills lab cannot fulfill expectations if it proceeds as a unilateral federal initiative — even if, following its establishment, it is encouraged to work in collaboration with “willing” provinces. If the skills lab is to succeed, it will be important to balance nimbleness and provincial-territorial involvement from the design stage onwards. The skills lab, therefore, should be seen not solely as an opportunity to operate as a laboratory for skills development and measurement but as an experiment in federal provincial institutional governance in Canada.
- Investments to improve access to broadband in remote/rural areas – $100 million over 5 years.
- The government will respond to the expert panel on political activities by charities in the coming months. For a more detailed overview of the impact of the budget on the charitable sector, see “Blumbergs 2018 Canadian Federal Budget – How will it affect the Canadian charitable sector?” https://www.globalphilanthropy.ca/images/uploads/2018_Canadian_Federal_Budget_and_its_impact_on_the_Canadian_charitable_sector.pdf
- The GBA+ Results Framework has a section relating to adult literacy. An indicator of meeting the goal of “equal life long learning opportunities for adults” has been established as “adults’ literacy and numeracy test scores by gender (based on Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)).”
One can hope that this means the next PIAAC survey will be used to look at population level advances and that this indicator will not be used for individual literacy programs. For more about the challenges and pitfalls of using PIAAC as an individual measure, please see Christine Pinsent-Johnson’s blog “Policy Problems – The (mis)use of an international large-scale assessment in Ontario’s adult education system” https://policyproblems.wordpress.com/
Naming the issue is a big deal:
Throughout the budget document are references to literacy. To my mind, even naming the challenges faced by those with weak literacy skills is a step in the right direction toward ensuring full participation by all Canadians in our society. Here are a few examples from the budget:
- “Research undertaken in 2007 by the Canadian Red Cross, Brandon University and federal partners analyzed the needs of at-risk populations in relation to emergency management at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels. 10 population groups were found to be particularly susceptible to harm due to emergencies or disasters: seniors; persons with disability; Indigenous Peoples; medically dependent persons; low-income persons; children and youth; persons with low literacy levels; women; transient populations; and new immigrants and cultural minorities.”
- “Furthermore, the complexity of the tax system, low literacy and lack of access to available assistance are all barriers to tax filing among low-income individuals that can cause them to miss out on potential tax benefits.”
- “Investments in CRA telephone services to address high caller demand and improve accuracy in agent responses will also deliver positive impacts for low-income groups requiring assistance, including seniors, people with mobility barriers, people living in geographically isolated regions, and people who generally prefer to interact with the CRA by telephone.”
 Department of Finance. Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class. February 27, 2018.. p. 18. https://www.budget.gc.ca/2018/home-accueil-en.html
 Ibid. p. 64.
 Ibid. p. 108.
 Ibid. p. 58.
 Ibid. p. 249.
 Ibid. p. 132.
 Ibid. p. 259.
 Ibid. p. 182.
 Ibid. p. 56.
 Ibid. p. 62.
 Ibid. p. 62.
 Ibid. p. 63.
 Parkin, Andrew, Erich Hartmann and Michael Morden. How to Build a Skills Lab: A New Model of Institutional Governance in Canada. Mowat Centre. June 2017.
 Ibid. p. 120.
 Ibid. p. 189.
 Ibid. p. 222.
 Ibid. p. 262. italics added
 Ibid. p. 275. italics added
 Ibid. p. 277.