The Katimavik youth program, which provides thousands of hours of volunteer service in vulnerable communities and gives young Canadians work experience, is being cut because it was created by a Liberal government, Liberal MP Justin Trudeau says.
The elimination of the program, created in 1977 under the government of Trudeau's father, Pierre Trudeau, was announced in Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's March 29 budget. The program sends 1,100 young people to volunteer with local partner agencies in communities across the country.
The budget said the government would instead continue to "fund 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."
But Trudeau took aim at that argument Thursday, comparing Katimavik's $14-million annual funding to the $207-million Canadian Cadets program under the Department of Defence, which he called a "wonderful" program that had not been cut. Katimavik's cost of $2,000 per month per participant compares favourably with the cadets program's monthly cost of $4,000 per participant, he said.
Trudeau said the government's own review of the Katimavik program described it as valuable and a fit with the government's priorities.
"So why is this government cutting the program? It has the unfortunate ... and fatal flaw of having been created under a Liberal prime minister by someone who became a Liberal senator. That's the problem with Katimavik," Trudeau said.
Asked about the decision in the House of Commons Thursday, Heritage Minister James Moore said his department would continue to fund other programs for youth, but Katimavik was too expensive at more than $28,000 per participant and had a one-third dropout rate.
"[Katimavik] received up to $21 million a year from taxpayers for the past 30 years. As a minister of Canadian Heritage, you have to make some tough decisions and some easy decisions," Moore told MPs.
"Ending funding for Katimavik is one of the easiest decisions I've ever made."
Justin Trudeau said that unlike most of the other cuts in the budget, Katimavik isn't being phased out but ended immediately in a "brutal" fashion.
"The funding agreement runs out in March of 2013, but that will not even be honoured. The government is cutting right now, so much so that the young people ... who are already set to go out in July of 2012, in just a few months, have been told that no, there is no more program for them.
"That obviously throws off the young people who were counting on this experience to develop positive impacts in their communities and across their country, but it also puts out ... the community partners who were counting on these young people ... to help them do their job in this time of difficulty for many marginalized and vulnerable people," Trudeau said.
In a written statement Wednesday, Katimavik CEO Daniel Lapointe said current participants in the field would wrap up their work in June, and said 600 incoming participants who expected to start in July now have little time to find alternative opportunities. Lapointe called on Moore to meet and discuss "a common solution" to restore Katimavik's funding.
Katimavik was created by Jacques Hébert in 1977, who was later appointed to the Senate. Hébert went on a 21-day hunger strike in 1986 when the Mulroney government cut it.
The Chrétien government reinstated a scaled-down version of Katimavik in 1995. More than 30,000 young people have taken part in the program.