B.C. looks to send welfare recipients north for job training

The B.C. Liberal government is developing a program to move employable people on welfare to northern B.C., where they will be trained and housed.

B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon mentioned the program under development Tuesday during a budget-style speech to the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce.

While details are not yet available, Falcon said in an interview with reporters that government is developing a welfare-to-work program.

"We're working across government to put together a package to find a way to fly them up to where work is, provide accommodation and training, if necessary, and put them into high-paying jobs."

In his speech to the Chamber, Falcon said Dawson Creek's mayor attended one of the Occupy protests in Vancouver last year, handing out business cards and encouraging people unhappy with their standard of living to move north.

Falcon said the program would target jobs in the northeast and northwest, both of which are experiencing high rates of growth, and resulting low unemployment.

"There's huge opportunities and they don't have the workforce to deal with it."

Falcon said government officials are working with industry to come up with a program that will fill needs.

While there will be costs, Falcon said there will be offsetting savings from reduction in social assistance payments by government and additional income tax revenue from new workers.

"No one feels good about the fact they're not working. . . . This would give them an opportunity to feel much better about themselves."

Premier Christy Clark provided a six-month update Tuesday on the B.C. jobs plan, including a new focus on mining, agri-foods and transportation.

The latest job stats show, however, this region has lost about 2,000 jobs in the past year.

Falcon said the job training and transportation program for people on welfare is related to, but not directly part of, the B.C. jobs plan.

The finance minister spent much of his time talking about relative health of B.C.'s finances, including increasingly rare bragging rights for our AAA credit rating, something the province shares with Canada and Germany.

That credit rating is increasingly important in a world of "scared, nervous investors out there today. . . . They're looking for security."

Closer to home, B.C.'s nurses are now readying for bargaining, at the same time the province is at war with B.C.'s teachers over their contract.

Falcon said the province's so-called net-zero bargaining will be replaced next year with something called "gainsharing."

"We're prepared to provide a modest wage increase but it has to be found out of the budget as a whole."

That saving could be found through work practices, for example.

Asked how that differs from net-zero, Falcon said it will apply to "a broader package, a bigger envelope" where savings can be found to fund wage increases.

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