The Harper-Flaherty Budget is not really a Budget – MP Bruce Hyer

Bruce Hyer MPOTTAWA – Leaders Ledger – The Harper-Flaherty Budget is not really a Budget. When I picked up the 498-page book last week, I was looking for spreadsheets and commitments. It is really much more of a political speech and ideological manifesto. We will likely have to wait for the details to emerge, slowly and painfully, before we find out the fate of many of the programs and institutions that make us proud to be Canadians.

There are some details that are clear. “Streamlining” environmental assessments is spelled “g-u-t-t-i-n-g”. The Conservatives will spend billions for untendered F-35 fighter jets and USA-style mega prisons to house youth who download songs illegally or grow six pot plants. They will force seniors to wait extra years before they can retire. And they continue to shift the burden of taxation off Big Oil and Big Banks (less than half the large corporate tax rate in the USA!) onto small businesses and middle class families.

One group particularly affected is youth: students; unemployed youth; and students on reserves attending schools funded at a much lower rate than their provincial counterparts. While many of the coming cuts are yet to be clearly announced, there are a few that are clear. They will get less Old Age Security than previous generations, and may get less health care too. Particularly regrettable is the decision to eliminate Katimavik. A single line in last week’s federal budget declared: “The Government will eliminate the Katimavik program.”

In Inuktitut, Katimavik means “meeting place”. The program was founded in 1977 under the Trudeau Liberals (which, according to Conservative Saskatchewan MP Brad Trost, “probably right there gives the answer to where most Conservatives are coming from”). Senator Jacques Hébert went on a 21-day hunger strike in 1986 to protest the killing of Katimavik by the Mulroney Tories. Hébert’s protest ended when Liberal Jean Chrétien and Conservative Walter Baker pledged to create a non-profit committee to keep the program — and Hébert — alive. In 1995, the Chrétien government reinstated federal funding to a scaled-down Katimavik, to harness youth volunteer activities and provide cross-cultural experiences to grow our leaders of tomorrow.

Since Katimavik’s inception, more than 31,000 youth have taken part in the program, learning leadership, shared responsibility and about bringing different Canadian cultures together to build a stronger country. 545 not-for-profit organizations benefitted. Youth learn about uniting…not dividing.

Here in Thunder Bay, an employee of one of Katimavik’s local partner organizations wrote:

“For the past few years we have been very fortunate to have the help of Katimavik volunteers. The Katimavik program is invaluable to our organization because a) the volunteers genuinely want to help—they are involved because they chose to take part; and b) the system is structured so that we have clear guidelines to help us achieve goals for both parties–the volunteer and our organization. This means everyone is accountable and reliable.

“Our most recent Katimavik youth said his wish was to build his organizational and inter-personal skills. We created a running to-do list of tasks that built his confidence, offered him experience working with the public and encouraged him to take the initiative to get involved as much as possible. He learned valuable skills, and we had the manpower to accomplish tasks we wouldn’t have otherwise been able to manage. Win-win.

“Katimavik volunteers help take up the slack of previous government cuts. This funding cut will have an exponential effect because hundreds of other organizations that rely on Katimavik volunteers will also suffer. Not to mention that for 35 years this program has consistently proven to create meaningful life-skills lessons for thousands of young people. Please do not cut funding to this valuable program.”

For several years, the Hyer family has hosted young Katimavik house guests. We learned some French. They improved their English. We all learned about each others’ cultures and points of view. Isn’t that what democracy and building a better Canada should be about?

Bruce Hyer, MP
Thunder Bay Superior North