It sounded almost too good to be true. For the relatively modest cost of $200 million, the armed forces were prepared to sign up 25,000 young people and place them in two-year job-training programs in every part of the country. When the proposal was presented to dispirited Liberal MPs at last week’s closed-door caucus meeting by the party’s Committee on Youth, the room suddenly came alive. “Think of the multiplier effect when these kids spend their money,” raved one back-bench MP. “Every hamburger joint and Radio Shack will be hiring extra staff.”
Although cabinet has toyed with various job corps schemes for two months and the new scheme has its opponents, there are several powerful inducements to act fast. If the defence department plan receives government approval by Christmas, Maclean’s has learned, it could be under way by Feb. 1, according to a secret cabinet document prepared by senior military officials. To add to the urgency, the scheme has now caught the imagination of a vocal group of Liberal MPs that is pushing the government to relax its anti-inflation battle and concentrate on creating jobs. “A lot of us feel the government is fast approaching the point of no return,” explained one disenchanted back-bencher. “If there isn’t a major economic shift soon, we can write off the next election no matter who our leader is.”
The beauty of the defence department proposal, according to proponents, is
that the key elements of the program are in place now. The military bases and training programs already exist. The armed forces have a waiting list of 33,000 young people who have passed their entrance examinations and are desperate to be called up. The two main obstacles are money and the country’s military manpower ceiling of 83,000. Unlike many of the government’s current job-creation schemes, the military plan would be aimed specifically at 17to 25-year-olds—the estimated 600,000 young people who fear that, with 12.7per-cent unemployment, they may become the lost generation.
The scheme has its opponents. Employment Minister Lloyd Axworthy is one of its strongest critics. He jealously guards his jurisdiction over job-creation programs, explained a Liberal colleague, and can be expected to fight fiercely to make sure that every cent of available make-work money goes to him, not to Defence Minister Gilles Lamontagne. The second doubting cabinet faction is a vaguely defined group of ministers that is philosophically opposed to any expansion of the military.
Several elements of the program remain unclear, including its scope and precise cost. But, as Canada headed into its bleakest Christmas since the Great Depression, facts and figures were not what most MPs needed to take home with them. They wanted a symbol of hope. -CAROL GOAR in Ottawa.
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