The importance of Katimavik in a country like Canada
// Samantha Thompson

When the federal budget was announced in late March, many people were outraged about things like an increased retirement age and cuts to the CBC. However, one of the cuts that wasn’t as widely discussed was the elimination of the youth volunteer program Katimavik. Unfortunately, the importance and value of the Katimavik program has been undervalued by the Harper government.

Katimavik, an Inukitut word meaning “meeting place”, is a program that brings together youth aged 17-21 to spend nine months volunteering in community projects in three randomly-selected Canadian cities. In 2010-2011, Katimavik took in 600 participants who volunteered with 500 community partners in 64 communities across the country.

In Katimavik’s 2010-2011 annual report, a message from Stephen Harper was included. “I would like to commend everyone involved with Katimavik for their commitment to nurturing responsible citizens and for encouraging Canada’s youth to achieve their full potential,” it read. According to the same report, the volunteers who participated in Katimavik that year alone created a value of an estimated $10.8 million.

Katimavik has been around for the past 35 years, and was the brainchild of the Liberal Pierre Elliott Trudeau government. It is likely for this reason that his son, current MP Justin Trudeau, has spoken out so strongly in favour of Katimavik.

“We know that this government doesn’t care about empowering or investing in our youth, but does the minister realize that by cutting Katimavik, he’s also hurting thousands of community organizations in hundreds of towns across this country?” he said. “Every year because of Katimavik thousands of Canadians get to serve their country; get to learn how to build a better Canada, one community at a time.”

Katimavik is a program that has had a significant, life-changing impact on so many of its participants. Katimavik was a program that was set up to cultivate generations that knew what it meant to be civically engaged, to care about their communities, and to understand different parts of Canada beyond their front door. These are not the Canadians that the Conservatives want, because these Canadians will also be the ones to pay attention to things like the budget, to party platforms, and to election day. It is much more politically beneficial for the government to have citizens who are obsessed with their own lives, and do not care about anyone outside of their own family.

However, it is because Katimavik promotes a culture of engaged citizens that everyone who has ever participated in the program is aware that the program is being cut. Similar to Canada World Youth, Katimavik creates a strong network of people who are consistently in touch with one another and do not stop communicating simply because their nine months have ended. Since the announcement that their program would be cut, more than 3,500 signatures have been collected on an online petition.

Katimavik’s funding has been threatened before, between 1986 and 1994. During these years, the program went from an institution that had contributed to the education of over 17,000 volunteers to a program that was reduced to an outdoor recreational and training centre in the Montreal suburb of Île-Perrot. When its funding was reinstated in 2004, the program continued to grow, gradually gaining more recognition. Part of this recognition came in the form of university credits, with Capilano College (as it was at the time) becoming the second institution to give Katimavik participants class credits for their work in the program.

The budget announcement is particularly distasteful because Katimavik had a funding agreement with the federal government that was meant to last until Mar. 31, 2013. As a result of the funding being cut earlier than the agreement stated, the next round of Katimavik participants, slated to begin their experience this July, have found their trips cancelled. Because the Harper government did not feel it necessary to hold true to their funding agreement, everyone who was planning their next nine months as a part of Katimavik are now left in limbo. In most cases, deadlines to apply to post-secondary institutions have passed, particularly if they are applying out of high school.

What this announcement has done is left hundreds of Canadian youth without a plan. Unfortunately, this matters very little to the Conservatives. Youth as a demographic do not matter, because their voter turnout is so low, and this federal budget focuses on youth so little for this precise reason.

Any program that promotes civic engagement amongst youth is vitally important to the success of a nation, particularly one as vast as Canada. Any government that cuts funding to a program with those aims is undervaluing its youth, but more importantly, is demonstrating that it knows that its success is contingent on people remaining uninvolved and unengaged. It is time that we remind the Harper government that we are paying attention. We will not stand by while programs like Katimavik are eliminated, eventually rendering a Canada that is but a shell of its former self.

//Samantha Thompson, editor-in-chief
//Graphics by Miles Chic

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