WENDY ELLIOTT: VCLA needs our love in light of federal funding cuts

Wendy Elliott welliott@kingscountynews.ca
Published on February 10, 2014

Valentine’s Day is our opportunity to show some love to the Valley Community Learning Association (VCLA) as they face losing valuable programming.

Peter Gillis, the association’s stalwart director, quietly pursues the goal of literacy and better employment and his staff are gifted teachers. When I dropped into headquarters last week, it was a beehive of activity.

Yet key programming is jeopardized by the flawed implementation of the Canada Jobs Grant. For the past four years, Gillis said, the VCLA has been offering a program designed to help the low-skilled employed and those without work, to gain the skills to find a better job or get back into the workforce. The program offers classes in the evenings and between shifts to allow adults who are unable to attend full time adult education.

Since the program began in 2010, 91 adult learners have achieved their GED and many others have passed their apprenticeship exams for trades, passed motor vehicle exams, passed their trucker's licence, or passed the entrance tests for the military and Michelin, as well as other employment-related aptitude tests.

In other words, the program has been a great community asset. 

The program has been funded through the Labour Market Agreement (LMA), a federal transfer to the provinces that was created in the 2007 federal budget to “help provide training to those who need it, including underrepresented groups”.

Most people are not aware the 2013 federal budget proposed to take 60 per cent of that funding and put it into a Canada Jobs Grant. This would leave Nova Scotia with a significantly reduced amount of funding for the most vulnerable of its citizens, Gillis said.

The federal body responsible has documented the effectiveness of current Labour Market Agreements. A report found that 86 per cent of LMA participants were employed after completing adult learning and job training programs (compared to 44 per cent before entering), with their average earnings increased by a whopping $323 per week.

So Gillis wants us all to drop in at noon on Valentine’s Day to listen to some learners who will speak about their success stories. He promises there will be refreshments, music, and maybe even a protest song.

Back in January, the CBC reported the Harper government spent $2.5 million to promote the Canada Job Grant. That’s a lot of cash for pricey TV spots during playoff hockey to promote a program that was not operational because the provinces have refused to get on board.

Earlier this month, the CBC detailed the fact that the provinces currently receive $500 million a year under the existing Labour Market Agreements, which are due to expire March 31.  Under the proposed Canada Job Grant, the provinces would lose $300 million.

No wonder the provinces haven’t signed on. Our Premier Stephen McNeil has said, "we have shared interests, and frankly concerns, regarding the Canada Job Grant and other changes advanced by the federal government. I am concerned with the unilateral approach in this important area, one that is the jurisdiction of the provinces.”

He’s right. Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education in Canada is a provincial responsibility.

Ironically our prime minister, as opposition leader in 2002, lambasted the then Liberal government for its advertising spending.

“Will the prime minister stop the waste and abuse right now and order a freeze of all discretionary government advertising?” he asked in Parliament.

At its peak, the Paul Martin government spent $111 million on advertising. According to the most current numbers we have, the Conservatives paid $136.3 million in 2009-2010.

We could become preoccupied with numbers, but I think what we need to keep in mind is that roughly one in every 10 Canadians does not have a high school diploma. So go visit VCLA on Friday, it’s located at 49 Cornwallis St. in Kentville.