Federal budget 2017 is a plan to train, but not retain, Canadian brains

Click to play video: 'Federal Budget 2017 highlights'
Federal Budget 2017 highlights
Alcohol and tobacco taxes going up, Uber will have to charge GST/HST, and no path out of deficit are just a few highlights from the 2017 federal budget. Vassy Kapelos has more – Mar 22, 2017

With little new money to spend, the Liberal government used its latest budget to focus on helping Canadians get the jobs that already exist, rather than creating new ones.

“There are a lot of jobs waiting out there for people with the right skills,” Brian DePratto, senior economist at TD Economics, said.

READ MORE:  How the budget will affect your pocketbook

The budget drew praise from several economists Global News spoke with for seeking to address underemployment and long-term unemployment with a slew of initiatives that could make it easier for Canadians to get new training while keeping their jobs or their Employment Insurance benefits.

The government’s focus, however, appeared to be only on how to train Canadians rather than ensuring the country can retain those who already have the right skills.

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Federal student loans and grants

If you’re employed and would like to go back to school or attend a training program, you might qualify for federal funding and loans next year.

Starting in the 2018-2019 academic year, the government pledged to raise the income threshold for part-time students to qualify for federal student loans and grants.

READ MORE: The federal budget in 3 charts 

For grants only, which are not repayable, Ottawa is also planning to replace current provincial income thresholds with a single, national income cap for eligibility.

The measures are expected to benefit women in particular, who make up nearly two-thirds of current part-time recipients of federal student loans, the budget noted.

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EI benefits

The budget also pledges to make EI more flexible to allow unemployed Canadians to go back to school or undertake training and keep receiving benefits.

With some exceptions, Canadians are currently ineligible for EI if they attend schools or training for more than 14 hours per week.

“The government is finally going after the hard-core unemployed,” said Ian Lee, associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business.

READ MORE: Liberals extend parental leave to 18 months, boost childcare funding

The measure could help reduce the ranks of Canada’s 1.5 million long-term unemployed, who don’t have the educational background required to fill existing jobs, said Lee.

Unemployed Canadians who have a working spouse would also likely benefit from the higher family income thresholds for federal student grants and loans.

But what about the brain drain?

The budget includes a slew of proposed reforms and boosted funding for existing training programs, as well as new skills-development resources for unemployed and underemployed Canadians not covered under current EI-funded programs.

There are initiatives to help women and indigenous people get degrees or training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects) and even to teach kids as young as kindergarten-age to code.

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But there was no mention of how to make sure Canadians with the right skills remain in Canada, TD’s DePratto told Global News.

Canada ranks in the middle of the pack compared to other advanced economies when it comes to its share of its graduates in STEM fields, but the U.S. doesn’t shine either, said DePratto.

The key difference between Canada and the U.S. is the ability to retain domestic talent and attract brains from all over the world, he noted.


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