Western premiers focus on jobs, economy

Skills training, immigration programs discussed at conference

Premiers at the Western Premiers' Conference in Winnipeg — an annual meeting of the four western provinces and three territories — discussed the acute labour and skills shortages affecting their jurisdictions.

To ensure these shortages do not restrict economic growth, they agreed on the need to:

• expand the labour force through skills training
• attract workers through an effective approach to immigration
• ensure Aboriginal peoples are well-positioned to fully participate in the economy
• engage with the private sector to encourage and support its necessary involvement in solving the skills shortage. 

The premiers said they support a flexible approach to skills training that reflects the diverse needs of the West, and they support greater involvement by employers in skills and job training reflecting diverse provincial and territorial economies.

There is concern, however, that the proposed Canada Job Grant from the federal government — which will require matching from employers, provinces and territories — could interfere with provincial and territorial priorities in skills training and jeopardize the success of training programs already in place, particularly those that help the most vulnerable people, including persons with disabilities, who need additional supports to find jobs.

As an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, any federal initiatives in skills training should allow any jurisdiction to opt out with full compensation, said the Western premiers.

New federal initiatives should also take into account the unique skills training required for Aboriginal peoples, and the premiers' priority is to ensure they have the necessary skills and job readiness to participate fully in the Canadian economy.

A more responsive and flexible immigration system is a vital component of developing a skilled Canadian workforce, said the premiers. While new models for economic immigration are appreciated, existing Provincial and Territorial Nominee Programs continue to be essential tools to help meet economic and labour market needs.

They also emphasized the importance of federal-provincial-territorial collaboration in reforming Canada's immigration system and said reforms must:

• increase overall immigration levels

• provide a greater role for provinces and territories in the selection of all immigrants
• ensure Provincial and Territorial Nominee Programs are not negatively affected by the implementation of the Expression of Interest model
• include a streamlined visa processing system that is client-focused and ensures Canada is competitive in the global market for talent and tourism
• ensure timely and reliable access to temporary foreign workers in order to fill legitimate labour and skills shortages, recognizing that Provincial and Territorial Nominee Programs provide an effective path for these workers to become Canadian citizens.

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