Third time gone

Michael Johansen
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Katimavik has never stood a chance against a federal Conservative government, Progressive or otherwise.

The demise of the 35-year-old volunteer youth program was guaranteed the moment Stephen Harper squeaked into a majority in the House of Commons.

He's not the first blue prime minister to try to kill the inoffensive program, but it looks like he'll be the first to succeed, once and for all.

Fair analysis

The Conservatives' persistent dislike of Katimavik has nothing to do with the cost, despite this being the excuse they are giving for using their 2012 budget to finally eliminate it altogether.

A fair accounting of expenses and benefits would most likely conclude that the cost of housing and feeding small groups of young Canadians in hundreds of communities throughout the country is more than offset, not only by the considerable amount of necessary work they do that would otherwise not get done, but also by the value of the enriching experiences they gain and the knowledge they learn.

In Labrador, as in every other region of Canada, Katimavik youth are providing free, yet vital and irreplaceable services to schools, hospitals, museums, animal shelters, municipal councils, aboriginal organizations, elderly citizens, service clubs, libraries, needy families, recreational centres and youth groups.

Wilful blindness

In determining, according to the budget, that Katimavik "reaches a relatively small number of participants annually at a relatively high cost per participant," one can only assume the federal government and all its MPs, local or not, are ignoring the thousands who benefit every year the program operates and how expensive it will be to pay for all the work that the participants have been doing for free for so many years.

"This is clearly the worst time to cut Katimavik," the organization wrote in its own obituary following the release of the federal budget. "Our mission to provide and instil long-term social responsibility and civic involvement, and provide job skills to our young people, is now needed more than ever; as is the tangible help to our not-for-profit works partners in communities all across Canada so they can deliver essential services to those that need them the most."

Hating its creator

None of that seems to matter to a federal Conservative government.

The only thing that matters to the current 39-per-cent majority is that Katimavik was started by the other party, by the hated Liberals - and not only by garden-variety Grits, but by the Prince of Gritty Darkness himself, Western Canada's big bad National Energy Program bogeyman: the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

That's why Joe Clark wanted to cut Katimavik.

That's why Brian Mulroney did cut it for a while.

And that's why Stephen Harper is cutting it again right now. It's just too darned Liberal red for any of their liking - especially for the liking of the rightest-of-wing federal governments that Canada has ever known.

Not surprisingly, although their ideology (and perhaps their warped sense of political vengeance) forces the Conservatives to cut Katimavik, even they say something like it is needed, something that benefits "large numbers of young people at a reasonable cost."

However, they are typically vague about how their replacement program might work.

Will it, like Katimavik, introduce young Canadians of varied background to each other and to other parts of their country? Will it, like Katimavik, teach young Canadians about their own culture and about the many different cultures found in Canada, and will it help them learn a second official language?

Will it, like Katimavik, give young people the opportunity to try new, exciting and enriching experiences in places they may never have imagined they would ever see, let alone live in for three months?

Will it, like Katimavik, help build and maintain Labrador's ski clubs, help take care of Labrador's abandoned cats and dogs, shovel snow off the roofs and sidewalks for Labrador's elderly residents and assist in many of Labrador's community events?

Probably not. In fact, a government that cuts a venerable and valuable program like Katimavik for petty partisan reasons isn't likely to create a volunteer organization that's dedicated to civic education and community service - not unless loyalty oaths, rousing sing-songs, uniforms and torchlit parades are a big part of the Conservative-sanctioned youth experience.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Conservatives, House of Commons

Geographic location: Labrador, Western Canada

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