New Westminster MP blasts Minister over Katimavik cancellation comments

The Record, 5 April 2012 By Alfie Lau and Jennifer Moreau

New Westminster-Coquitlam MP Fin Donnelly is taking exception to comments that Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore made in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Moore's ministry is responsible for Katimavik, a program started in 1977 which sends groups of young volunteers to work full-time for six months in several communities across Canada. More than 300,000 young Canadians have participated in the youth volunteeer service program. With the recent federal budget, the program is no longer funded by the federal government.

Moore told the House of Commons: "As Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, I have to make difficult decisions and easy decisions. Ending funding for Katimavik is one of the easiest decisions I have ever made."

Donnelly was not impressed by those words.

"Katimavik has provided Canadian youth from all regions and cultural backgrounds with invaluable opportunities," said Donnelly. "The minister's cavalier attitude towards ending this important youth program is astonishing."

Several local non-profit groups will be left without extra help because of the elimination of the national youth volunteer program.

"It's a tremendous loss," said Tom Riessner, director of operations for ReStore, a Burnaby building supplies shop whose proceeds help fund Habitat for Humanity. "It's a great loss to kids, ... but also to the greater community."

Riessner said ReStore has partnered with the program for about six years. Youth volunteers help in the shop and with Habitat for Humanity's building projects.

Riessner usually gets two volunteers per six-month shift to help in his store.

"Katimavik has suffered the death of a thousand cuts," Riessner said. "We have to try to find additional volunteers to cover 80 hours of volunteer labour, per week. That leaves a huge hole for us."

Riessner said the program's loss would affect a lot of other non-profits that are stretched thin.

Katimavik estimates that each community that participated in the program will lose 14,900 hours of free labour, equivalent to $224,000. The organization estimates for every dollar of government funding, communities get $2 back in the form of free help. Riessner said the government's decision to cut the program "lacks vision."

"Here you have a bunch of kids who really want to get to know the rest of the country, and they want to learn and they want to help the community. The government doesn't seem to have a lot of time for that, and it's disappointing," he said.

Katimavik posted reaction to the funding cancellation on the organization's main page.

"It is with extreme disappointment that we learned ... that the government had decided to end its funding commitment to Katimavik," the statement reads. "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."

The organization is collecting testimonial from people who've been involved in the programs. There's also an online petition to sign. Go to www.katimavik.org for more.

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