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Members of a Katimavik team volunteer in cold locations like Regina.
Jon Roe/the Gauntlet

Youth volunteer program cut

Conservative treasury board ditches Katimavik

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Funding cuts to the Katimavik program may mean the end of a service which allows 1,200 Canadian youth to volunteer each year.

During the review of social programs by the federal Conservative government this July, the treasury board decided funding would not be extended past August 2007, the end of the current program year.

Calgary author Will Ferguson was in Katimavik in 1984, and is speaking up for the program he said was a life-shaping experience.

"I am deeply disappointed to hear that Katimavik is being cut," said Ferguson. "It doesn't reflect well on the current Conservative government. "

Liberal MP and leadership candidate Stephane Dion agrees.

"They destroy everything and build nothing," Dion said of the Conservatives. "I think it makes sense to boost exchange programs."

Katimavik sends youth between the ages of 17-21 on seven-month volunteer programs to three different communities across Canada, one French-speaking and two English- speaking. Participants work 35 hours per week in non-profit organizations and are paid $3 per day living allowance.

Approximately 1,200 youth participate in the program each year and nearly 25,000 youth have participated in Katimavik since its inception in 1977.

While the current government feels that Katimavik is not an essential program, they are not the first.

Shortly after winning a majority government, Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government cut the program in 1986.

But, cutting a program that benefits so many Canadian youth is a big mistake, said Dion.

"When youth are brought together, they feel very Canadian," said Dion. "It gives a lot to the youth involved."

Unless a change comes before August, Katimavik's end is near. While independent research shows that the $27 million program generates a return of $2.20 for every dollar spent, this is not enough for the program to survive, noted Dion.

"The results are quite impressive," said Dion. "It's important as it's costly for youth to travel across Canada."

Katimavik has been the subject of one of Ferguson's books and has a section devoted to it in another.

"It [brings] together young people from every region of Canada," Ferguson added. "In a country as large and as regionalized as Canada, working exchange programs like Katimavik are absolutely essential."

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