Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't cut Katimavik, expand it

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In its most recent budget, the federal government needed to show it was serious about finding ways to save money, along with deflecting attention from big issues such as the money tied up in buying fighter jets. So let's just say it was a bad time to be a penny or a youth program with Liberal party lineage.

Wrapping up production of pennies filled some air time, but in an increasingly cashless society there's no way this issue was going to hold the nation's attention. We're prepared to let that one go.

But another piece of low-hanging fruit that hit the ground with a thud when the cool Conservative breeze hit the budget tree was Katimavik, a youth volunteer program that offers a lot more value than its annual $15-million price tag.

Not everybody goes to university. This program for Canadians between 17 and 21 is an ideal bridge for people who need a bit more time to figure out their next move after high school. It's not like they are going to have the option of spending an extra year in high school, thanks to changes at the provincial level to save money.

Katimavik is a program that should be expanded, not cut. It should be viewed as a valuable nation-building tool. There's no better way to erase stereotypes about people from other regions of the country than to bring them together under one roof for six months. And there's no substitute for the experience of living in another place and getting to know its people.

So, the program born in 1977 by the government of Pierre Trudeau finds itself on its last legs yet again. Katimavik has been left for dead before -- Brian Mulroney's Conservatives pulled the plug on it in 1986 -- and it will likely be reborn the next time Liberals find themselves in power. In 1995, the Liberals under Jean Chrétien revived it, which brings us to today.

Until that time the people who end up losing are the ones who need the axed program the most. Participants, yes, but also the wide range of community organizations that provide invaluable service while relying on volunteers.

"It is not just a youth program," said Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, the former prime minister's son. "Having these volunteers, who are committed people, to give projects to is a huge boost for small communities and community-service organizations that help out our vulnerable populations."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 A11

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