July 13, 2020

Winnipeg
23° C, Light rain showers

Full Forecast

Close this
Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Subscribe

Business leaders urge Pallister to redirect unused COVID-assistance program dollars

Two of Brian Pallister's marquee COVID-19 assistance programs appear as though they will be largely underspent, prompting business leaders to suggest alternative uses for the money.

The provincial government has budgeted up to $120 million for each of the Summer Student Recovery Jobs Program and the Manitoba Gap Protection Program (MGPP).

Tool matches students, jobs

The provincial government launched an online tool today to match students with summer jobs.

Student Jobs MB aims to connect students looking for work  opportunities with employers throughout the province, Premier Brian Pallister announced during a teleconference.

The provincial government launched an online tool today to match students with summer jobs.

Student Jobs MB aims to connect students looking for work  opportunities with employers throughout the province, Premier Brian Pallister announced during a teleconference.

The free online program allows students to apply for multiple jobs with the click of a button. Private-sector employers, not-for-profit organizations and governments are able to post openings and connect directly with students. It expedites the hiring process and uses secure technology to protect user privacy, Pallister said.

“Summer jobs are important for youth in not only helping pay for an education, but for building life skills and developing future career interests,” he said. “Employers also benefit from hiring students who can bring energy and new perspectives to their operations and can assist them greatly in rebounding from the COVID-19 pandemic."

The online tool is designed to complement the Summer Student Recovery Jobs Program launched April 24 in response to the economic impact of the pandemic. It supports employers in hiring high school and post-secondary students between the ages of 15 and 29 by making $120 million available for a $7 hourly wage subsidy, up to a maximum of $5,000 per student. Employers can be subsidized to hire up to five students.

To date, 793 employers offering 1,841 student jobs have responded to the program, a government news release said.

"I'd like to see that number go a lot higher," Pallister said. "That's what this announcement is about."

Student Jobs MB will be the primary source used by the province to connect students with government employment opportunities offered through the Student Temporary Employment Program, the Conservation Green Team and Urban/Hometown Green Team partners.

More information on student and youth employment opportunities can be found at www.studentjobsmb.ca.

— Carol Sanders

The province says it has approved more than 4,000 applications for assistance under the MGPP, paying out more than $25 million so far.

Designed to fill in gaps left by federal COVID-19 subsidy programs for business, the program provides forgivable loans of up to $6,000 for small and medium-sized businesses.

However, since the program was introduced in April, Ottawa has amended its assistance criteria, reducing the need for the less-generous provincial plan, business leaders say.

They say it's now unlikely that the province will will have to expend significantly more money through the MGPP than it already has.

Jonathan Alward, director of provincial affairs with the Manitoba branch of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the program was "very well-intentioned."

Jonathan Alward of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business: "very well-intentioned."

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Jonathan Alward of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business: "very well-intentioned."

There were several gaps in federal programming for business but Ottawa has addressed them to a significant degree, he said.

Some businesses that applied for the provincial program will likely apply for the improved Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program, even if it means having to return the provincial funds, Alward said.

That means at least some of the $25 million the province has paid out so far will be returned to provincial coffers.

Neither Alward, nor Chuck Davidson, president and CEO of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, believe many more businesses will apply for the MGPP now that Ottawa has improved its programs.

Alward said the CFIB is lobbying the province to introduce new business supports in lieu of the tens of millions of dollars allocated for the MGPP that will go unspent.

He said the cash could be used to assist businesses in purchasing personal protective equipment and help cover staffing and other costs dedicated to ensuring the safety of employees and customers.

To date, 793 employers have applied for government wage assistance under the province's Summer Student Recovery Jobs Program to hire 1,841 students this summer, Pallister said Thursday, as he announced the establishment of an online tool to help match employers with students looking for work.

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.

The program, launched over a month ago as a key provincial response to the economic impact of the pandemic, provides an hourly wage subsidy of $7 to a maximum of $5,000 per student. So far, if the maximum amount were paid out to each student enrolled, the total cost would be about $9.2 million.

Davidson said even with restrictions on many businesses scheduled to loosen Monday, there will be far fewer jobs available to students than has been the case previously in the hospitality, tourism and service sectors.

Pallister denies using pandemic for political gain

Premier Brian Pallister is denying suggestions that he was attempting to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to gain political advantage in the funding of post-secondary institutions.

"That's a gross misrepresentation of the reality that we have to face," he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

The Progressive Conservative government forced post-secondary institutions to trim their budgets, then surprised them by unveiling a $25.6-million "transitional support fund" to push them to adjust to the job market.

Premier Brian Pallister is denying suggestions that he was attempting to use the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to gain political advantage in the funding of post-secondary institutions.

"That's a gross misrepresentation of the reality that we have to face," he told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

The Progressive Conservative government forced post-secondary institutions to trim their budgets, then surprised them by unveiling a $25.6-million "transitional support fund" to push them to adjust to the job market.

So far, the province hasn't provided much detail on what adjustments it is seeking from the colleges and universities. However, in an internal memo to University of Manitoba staff,  president David Barnard said Thursday the institution has been asked to submit proposals for funding by Sept. 15.

Pallister said that in several other provinces and in much of the United States, "there are structures in place to partner post-secondary institutions more effectively with the economies that support them and pay for them. This is what we're after."

Told Thursday of criticism from professors about the funding changes, Pallister said institutional leaders such as Barnard and University of Winnipeg president Annette Trimbee have been "tremendously supportive" of the government's initiative.

"This is an opportunity to help our post-secondary institutions work better, to be more effective in training people, helping people to move forward," he said.

"It's an opportunity to be embraced.... If some tenured professors don't want to embrace the opportunity, I think that simply strengthens the argument that their ivory tower attitude is counterproductive to the best interests of the rest of us."

Larry Kusch

"Those are the industries that, for the most part, have been either operating at half-capacity or haven't even had the opportunity to operate yet," he said.

Owners will be unsure how the public is going to respond to the reopening, he said.

"I would be surprised if they used that full $120 million," Davidson said, referring to the money budgeted for the program.

The province's chambers of commerce also have ideas for how the unused money could be spent.

"We think there's going to be a need in regards to digital infrastructure investment in this province, which is going to be absolutely critical going forward," Davidson said, citing one example.

Pallister said Thursday he's hoping to see greater use of the summer student wage program.

"Employers can benefit from hiring students. I encourage small businesses to do this. I know that some of you are facing challenges attracting people back who have been in receipt of federal support programs," he said.

Asked if he was disappointed in the uptake so far, he responded, "No, not at all."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

History

Updated on Thursday, May 28, 2020 at 6:11 PM CDT: Updates story to final version

6:24 PM: Adds photos

The Free Press will close this commenting platform at noon on July 14.

We want to thank those who have shared their views over the years as part of this reader engagement initiative.

In the coming weeks, the Free Press will announce new opportunities for readers to share their thoughts and to engage with our staff and each other.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.