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Feds eye special skills-training savings account as part of budget: source

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  • OTTAWA — The federal Liberal government’s fourth budget will include measures to help Canadians cover their bills if they choose to head back to school to boost their skills or change careers, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Thursday.

    In what will be Morneau’s last fiscal blueprint before this fall’s federal election, the Liberals plan to create a skills-training savings account for adults that’s modelled on one in Singapore, a government source, who was not authorized to speak publicly because the plan is not yet released, told The Canadian Press.

    The Singaporean program, launched in 2016, provides every eligible resident over age 25 a $500 credit to use for government-backed training courses. Workers over 40 can receive a subsidy of up to 90 per cent for approved courses.

    The program sounds similar to a registered education savings plan (RESP) for mid-career adults, but the government has been warned that people who make less money might not save as officials hope, replicating problems the government has tried to overcome in the RESP program.

    At a morning event where Morneau picked up his shoes for Tuesday’s budget — the same ones he wore in 2016, but with some repair work from an female-owned shop in Toronto’s Kensington Market district — the finance minister talked about how the government is looking for ways to provide workers dedicated time off for skills training and means to cover their expenses while they’re out of the workforce.

    Morneau’s council of economic advisers recommended such a program in its final report in late 2017. The group called for the creation of a “Canada Lifelong Learning Fund,” to provide incentives for workers and companies to invest in skills development, as part of $15 billion in spending.

    “When you think about going from one career to another career, it’s difficult and that’s something that we’re thinking about in our budget this year,” Morneau said during the event, where he took questions from a gathering of children. “That’s what we’re going to be thinking about — how we help Canadians to take time off, how do we ensure that they can continue to live their life while they’re taking time off and how do they pay for their training.”

    Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada, welcomed the idea of personal learning accounts.

    “All in all, I think what we’re seeing is a new conversation about skills and talent that looks not only at young people, but people throughout their careers,” said Davidson, whose organization represents 96 Canadian universities. “It looks at not only reskilling people once the market has disrupted them out of a job, but looking at upskilling that people can do while they’re employed. So, those kinds of directions are very, very welcome.”

    Since Morneau’s first budget three years ago, the unemployment rate has fallen close to a four-decade low and job creation has outpaced expectations. As well, education levels in Canada are among the highest in the world.

    But the economy is showing signs of cooling.

    Top government officials worked for years on ways to help Canadians prepare for a world with fewer lifelong careers and more short-term jobs, a hallmark of the “gig” economy.

    Federal officials quietly crafted a strategy, titled “Preparing Canadians for the Future,” that contains “bold ideas” so public policy doesn’t fall behind the curve, according to documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

    The documents say the strategy takes aim at policies and programs to “reflect a diverse labour force,” and looks at ways to close wage gaps and protect the mental well-being of workers, including “the right to disconnect from employer-provided technology.”

    The ideas made their way into a government consultation in the fall, and now the federal labour minister has appointed an expert panel to give Ottawa a clearer picture on what precisely policymakers should do.

    The right to disconnect from work during off hours is among the issues the panel will examine. Also in the panel’s mandate is whether to raise the federal minimum wage — which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly played down — as well as creating portable benefit plans for workers who don’t have workplace benefits.

    And Labour Minister Patty Hajdu has also asked the panel to look at ways to provide gig-economy workers a mechanism to negotiate wages, or centrally bargain in a way similar to the way unions collectively bargain with employers.

    Denise Amyot, president and CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, helped advise Singapore’s government on its skills plan a couple of years ago. She wants to see Canada follow suit.

    “What I’m hoping now is the government is prepared to act and that the government is prepared to act in a bold way,” Amyot said. 

    “We do not have a choice — all our jobs will change.”

    Jordan Press and Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press


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    National

    Scheer accuses Trudeau of ‘stacking the deck’ to get re-elected

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  • OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the Liberals’ decision to name an anti-Conservative union to a panel that will decide which media outlets receive government funding is the latest example of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “stacking the deck” in his favour to get re-elected in October.

    Scheer told The Canadian Press today he believes the decision to include Unifor on the panel — which will determine eligibility for a $600-million bailout package —is unacceptable and will undermine the credibility of the panel’s work.

    Unifor has campaigned against the Conservative party and the union has recently published tweets calling itself Scheer’s “worst nightmare.”

    Scheer says this is the latest in a string of moves by Trudeau to give himself an upper hand ahead of the fall federal election.

    He also points to changes made to pre-election spending for political parties that impose restrictions that he says mainly affect the Conservative party, while no limits have been placed on government spending or travel in advance of the writ period.

    Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has defended Unifor’s place on the panel, saying the union represents over 12,000 journalists and media workers and has been included among other journalism groups to ensure broad representation from the industry.

    The Canadian Press

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    Police say it’s “impressive” no arrests were made after Raptors celebrations

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  • Toronto police say it’s “impressive” that they didn’t have to arrest anyone after the Raptors’ historic win on Saturday night sent thousands of celebratory fans careening onto the streets.

    The roar of fans cheering and chanting “We the North” and “Let’s go Raptors” flooded the downtown core after Canada’s sole NBA team earned a spot in the final for the first time in franchise history.

    On social media, videos emerged of fans running into intersections and dancing on top of streetcars and buses, but on Sunday, police spokeswoman Katrina Arrogante confirmed that not a single arrest was made.

    “It’s impressive. It certainly is,” said Arrogante. “We’re amazed — police were there to keep the peace and that’s exactly what happened.”

    The festivities ramped up shortly after 11 p.m. when the Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 100-94, becoming the Eastern Conference champions and advancing to the NBA Finals.

    Earlier in the day, fans lined up for hours to pack Jurassic Park, but a thunderstorm prompted Toronto police to post on Twitter that they wouldn’t open the fan zone on schedule because of safety concerns. The ban was lifted an hour later and Jurassic Park quickly overflowed with Raptors supporters who braved the rain to watch the game outside Scotiabank Arena.

    There was a heavy police presence as some fans got rowdy, but officers say everyone managed to stay out of trouble as the celebrations continued.

    Arrogante said officers were called to various spots around the city to assist with crowd control and directing traffic, but no one was arrested. She said she saw videos of fans dancing on streetcars but said there were no reported injuries, and in terms of arrests: “nothing came out of that,” she said.

    “It turned out better than it could have,” said Arrogante.

    She said police will be out again Thursday night when the Raptors play the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors in Game 1 and she hopes fans will continue to have fun safely.

    Arrogante said fans planning on drinking should get a designated driver or take public transit.

    “We’re reminding anyone that is going to be celebrating or taking part in any events forthcoming of the playoffs, is to be respectful.”

    Alanna Rizza, The Canadian Press

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