Nova Scotia weighs impact of federal cut to employment services

The Nova Scotia government is assessing how to deal with a cut to federal funding that pays for programs meant to connect people with job training and work opportunities.

Jill Balser, Nova Scotia's minister of labour, skills and immigration, hopes the funding will be reinstated, but her counterpart in Ottawa says the provinces knew the change was coming and should have planned ahead.

Last year's labour market transfer from Ottawa to Nova Scotia was $122 million. According to the program's website, it served 27,000 participants.

Balser said that amount is set to drop by 20 per cent this year.

She said the impact will be vast and could hinder her department's efforts to correct widespread labour shortages.

"Our priority here in the province is looking at upskilling and reskilling," Balser told reporters this week. "We're thinking about folks who want to enter the skilled trades, anybody who is potentially immigrating here for a job in health care or in education."

Jill Balser is the PC MLA for for Digby-Annapolis.
Jill Balser is the minister of labour, skills and immigration. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC)

Balser said she expects the cut will affect some Nova Scotians more than others. "We know that it's going to be vulnerable Nova Scotians, women and equity-deserving groups," she said.

She said current programs can continue without disruption for a year. She said her department is looking at what will happen in the event of budget changes, but she hopes that can be averted.

Balser and she and the other provincial ministers are scheduled to speak to their federal counterpart next week about the program.

A billboard for an employment support program, pictured in Halifax, N.S., on June 13, 2024.
A billboard for an employment support program run by Nova Scotia Works. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

"We're hopeful going forward into that meeting that the federal government will reinstate the funding," she said.

Ottawa disputed that the funding change actually amounts to a cut.

A spokesperson for Randy Boissonnault, federal minister of employment, workforce development and official languages, said in an email that the federal government provided top-up funding to the labour market transfers starting in 2017-2018, and those top-ups have now come to an end.

"The base funding continues and has not changed."

The spokesperson said the provinces were aware funding was coming to an end, and ministers discussed it at a meeting in January.

"Some provinces and territories took action and planned ahead, and it is regrettable that Minister Balser did not do so in her province given her clear advance knowledge of the ending of the top-up funding."

Balser said Nova Scotia Works is one of the primary providers of employment services that are paid for by Ottawa's transfer program.

Nova Scotia Works has offices across the province and works with people in person and virtually to write cover letters and resumés, prepare for job interviews, apply for funding to get skills training, among other things.