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Students in Whistler get jobs thanks to federal funds

Questions remain around efficacy of program



Several post-secondary students in Whistler are getting paid jobs thanks to funding from the federal government's Summer Jobs Program.

Several Whistler organizations will share over $130,000 this summer through the program including: the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, Arts Whistler, the Audain Art Museum, Tourism Whistler, Whistler Adaptive Sports Program, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability, Whistler Gymnastics, Whistler Museum, the Whistler Sailing Association, and Whistler Sport Legacies.

Last week, the federal minister of employment, Patty Hajdu, was in the resort to announce the federal funding and underscore her government's commitment to creating "meaningful, good jobs" for Canada's youth.

"We know we're on the right track," she said, flanked by Canadian flags.

"Our investments in Canada's youth are paying off — they're building the foundations of a brighter solid future and a stronger middle class."

The Whistler Off Road Cycling Association (WORCA), which was highlighted during Hajdu's July 6 speech in Whistler, will receive $17,000. The money enables WORCA to hire four students for the summer and do more trail maintenance, said club president Craig Mackenzie.

"It's great that the community gets a benefit, but it's also great for the kids. They get a job. They can save money towards their education. It's a win all around."

Makaela Smithers, an 18-year-old engineering student from Vancouver who was hired as a trail builder, said she is grateful for the opportunity to work outside. And though the job is not directly related to her field of study, she thinks it will help her going forward.

"Having a full-time job is an asset to have on your resume," she said.

She receives $18 an hour, though not all of it is from the government. The government is providing minimum wage and WORCA tops it up.

Hajdu has been travelling the country in support of the Canada Summer Jobs program. The program funds jobs for "youth" between the ages 15 and 30 who are full-time students. It is billed as way to help students land their first full-time gig and develop on-the-job skills.

"Paid employment is one of the best indicators of future employment. A lot of time people just need that first paid job," said Hajdu.

The Summer Jobs Program — which has been around since 2005 — has come to play an especially prominent role in the Liberal government's efforts to curb youth unemployment, which has hovered around 13 per cent for years. That's twice the national rate.

In 2016, the Liberals allocated an additional $339 million to the Summer Jobs Program, bringing the number of jobs funded to roughly 65,800, nearly double what it was the previous year.

But while the program is popular — MPs of all political stripes enjoy distributing money to their riding — some question its impact on actually helping students secure full-time or career occupations after they leave school.

"(We just don't know enough about it to) say conclusively whether it is making a positive difference in the lives of those who are participating, relative to what would otherwise happen," said Jennifer Robison, a professor of political management at Carlton University.

That's because the government doesn't track the long-term outcome of participants.

The lack of oversight was borne out in two respective audits — in 2009 and 2015 — that recommended the government obtain participants' social insurance numbers in order to gauge the success of the program.

"A regular performance monitoring system would provide performance information to better support future evaluation work," said the 2015 report.

For Robson, the involvement of MPs in determining who gets funding is also fraught with problems. While organizations apply directly to federal government, MPs have discretion on who does — and who does not — receive funding.

Robson said she has heard of organizations asking student hires to send thank-you letters to MPs in order to "boost chances of getting funding the next year."

She also questions whether MPs are factoring in labour trends and projections when making their selections.

"Are MPS best place to identify local employment needs and future employment prospects?" she asked.

According to the MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, who posed for photos with Hajdu, Mackenzie, two of WORCA's new summer hires, and Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden following the presentation, the Canada Summer Jobs program is "fantastic." She said her role in the selection process was mostly to make sure that the money was allocated equitably over her entire riding.

The program, she said, is creating important job opportunities in more remote communities like Pemberton and the Sunshine Coast.

"It's important for us as a country to give rural people the same opportunities as (urban populations)," she said.

Last year, the program opened itself up to applications from small businesses. But Goldsmith-Jones said the majority of applications came from non-profits this year.

"Historically the perception is it's for not-for-profits," she said.

Asked about the lack of government tracking on whether the program helps students get long-term work Goldsmith-Jones said the Liberals could look at better ways to track the results of the program.

"We always are trying to improve," she said. "(But) generally speaking, it's very popular."

In 2016, the government dramatically increased its spending on the Canada Summer Jobs program. It supported 65,874 summer positions for students, nearly double the amount of the previous year.

As well, 49,600 of the jobs were with non-profits, while another 7,850 were with small businesses.

The program is one of three main programs of the government's Youth Employment Strategy (YES). The government spends $330 million on the program, which aims to help young people find and keep well-paying jobs, each year.