Katimavik cut from federal budget

Katimavik alumni are still overcoming the shock of last Thursday, where they heard that the program’s funding was to be cut in this year’s Federal Budget 2012.

A photo taken by Katimavik alumna Shannon Goodhead when she volunteered at Gros Morne National Park, NFLD.

By Kelsey Power

Katimavik alumni are still dealing with the shock when they heard the program’s funding was to be cut when Federal Budget 2012 was announced.

Although Katimavik has faced substantial cutbacks in recent years and was cancelled in 1985 by Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives, the program has survived. The program and its supporters would like the government’s decision reversed.

The Conservative’s federal budget states, “Our government is committed to giving our young people the opportunities they deserve and we will achieve that by funding programs that benefit large numbers of young people at a reasonable cost rather than concentrating available funding on a very small number of participants at an excessive per-person cost.”

Katimavik had a yearly operational budget of $15 million from Heritage Canada. About 1,100 people between the ages of 17 and 21 partake in the program each year. During a six-month duration, an individual lives and volunteers in a group of 11 in various communities across the country. Katimavik says it generated $2.20 on average for every dollar it spends.

The Department of Canadian Heritage will see spending cuts of $46.2 million over the next three years as part of the government’s savings review.

In response to the cut, Katimavik says “this announcement came as a surprise, since we are entering the third year of a funding agreement whose terms end March 31st, 2013. The decision is even more surprising considering that the recently made public Canadian Heritage summative evaluation of our programs makes very clear how Katimavik’s programs are not only relevant, important and valuable, but also how the organization attains its targets and the programs tie in with government-wide priorities and the department’s strategic objectives.”

Since its founding in 1977 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, more than 30,000 Canadians have participated in the program. The original aim was to give Canadians a sense of identity, something they were seen to be lacking based on previous participation in Canada World Youth.

A Katimavik group after their second day in the program. (Alanna O'Connor photo)

Megan Taylor, a former project leader and alumna of Katimavik explains, “In Katimavik, a lottery makes up who you are grouped with. It takes people from every walk of life and within the people you live with; you get to see this little snapshot of what Canada is. That was Jacques Hebert’s intent, to have people who were off the street with people who may be more well off, living together and seeing Canada.”

In response to the Conservative cut she says, “I feel that it shows who are the people the government values and whom they don’t value, I understand where they are coming from in going through a recession but I think they are trimming the wrong places.

“Harper said he was trimming the fat in cutting Katimavik from this year’s budget,” says Chelsea Tomsett, one of Taylor’s alumni who took part in the program in 2011,” but I think he’s cutting the nutrients away by eliminating these programs,” she adds.

“Before Katimavik, I was so fucked up,” says Tomsett. “My parents didn’t know what to do with me and then I went into this program and was surrounded by positive people, which completely changed me. I would hate to think where I would be right now if I hadn’t been able to have this experience. It just brought me into this extremely positive program and it was a really safe place to be. There were no stresses and no worries and many of us decided what we wanted to do with our lives during our time there.”

Despite the benefits, Tomsett does find some fault with the program.

“The administration for our district decided during the last two weeks of our program to move it to Medicine Hat, which just wasted money by moving the project from where it had been for so long and left us with nothing in a empty house for two weeks,” she says.

Elyssa Channing (left) is a Katimavik alumna. (Elyssa Canning photo)

Besides the reassignment that demonstrated a lack of organization, a $500 bursary for the end of volunteering was revoked during Tomsett’s time with Katimavik.

“They told us that we were not going to get bursaries because of funding, which was unfair as each of my work partners (I had worked at a special needs school), gave me $250, which was something they didn’t have to do,” she says.

The $1,000 activity budget had been cut from the program as well, and there was a reduction in the program’s duration, from nine months to six.

Another alumna, 19-year-old Alanna O’Connor, says, “my sister and I did the program and we were both hoping that my brother would get the chance to participate. Living in one city for my whole life definitely limited my knowledge on what the rest of Canada is about. Small communities across Canada thrive off of having Katimavik and alumni of the program are leaders of tomorrow because they know what it truly means to be Canadian.”

“Katimavik completely changed the course of my life, it changed my attitude towards learning and it opened a whole new understanding of what it means to be Canadian,” says Shannon Goodhead, an alumna of 2005. “It holds a place close to my heart as it has opened many opportunities for me.”

Goodhead is now unemployed as a result.

“I can always find another job, but the idea that other youth such as myself won’t be afforded the same opportunities, it breaks my heart,” she says.

“The government could have worked with the provinces and found ways to make up the funding but they didn’t,” says Taylor, the former project leader and alumna. “They made an environment where they couldn’t move forward. If they had, they could have saved this program and potentially made it better.

Katimavik is asking people to write letters to their local member of Parliament and the Prime Minister in support of the program, and there is a planned march on Parliament Hill for April 23. The CBC is also asking alumni to send in their best Katima-photo and story so they can be posted online.

The Eco-Internship program under Katimavik is funded separately by the Secrétariat à la jeunesse, under the Stratégie d’action jeunesse, a 2009-2014 initiative. This program will not be affected by the budget cut.

ElyssaKatimavik alumna and ambassador for recruitmen, Elyssa Canning, discusses how she feels regarding the loss of the program’s funding.