Katimavik

What Happened

The 2012 Conservative government budget eliminated on-going federal funding for Katimavik. In existence since 1977, this federally-funded service-learning organization offered young people opportunities to work in volunteer community teams across the country to improve social and environmental conditions, while adding to their knowledge of Canada and both of its official languages.


Background

Budget Cuts

Cuts to Katimavik’s funding formed part of a general assault on the budget of the Department of Canadian Heritage (CH). The Cultural Capitals of Canada component of the Canada Cultural Investment Fund; the Creators’ Assistance component of the Canada Music Fund; the Arts, Culture and Diversity Program; and “Canadian Studies Learning Material” initiative also fell under the knife.

In 2013, CH explained that budget reductions required it to move

to a more integrated policy framework that focuses on the socio-economic benefits that their programs offer to Canadians and their communities. The Department is also focusing on funding that leverages contributions from partners.

In place of the sustained support for the community-serving learning and civic engagement for young Canadians offered by Katimavik, CH now directs short-term, limited, and unstable funding to applicants such as Scouts Canada and 4H Clubs.

Observers immediately judged the loss of Katimavik’s multi-year budget of some $45 million over three years an effort to kill a volunteer program that had long irritated Conservatives. The death knell, however, proved premature. Today, Katimavik survives with much reduced programs (one, a community ‘Eco-Internship’ funded by the Quebec government and the second, a ‘Canadian Youth Leadership Program’ run in collaboration with the Rupertsland Institute in Peterborough, Ontario, for Alberta’s Metis youth) and the support of alumni and one corporate-sponsor, a Quebec-based manufacturer of “certified organic cosmetics.”

History

The term Katimavik first attracted broad attention as the name of a prominent part of the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67. This was one high point of the post-war Liberal vision of Canada, notably before the emergence of the movements for social justice associated with Quebec sovereignists, Indigenous peoples, and women and the rise in non-European immigration.

Ottawa’s near-simultaneous creation of the Company of Young Canadians (CYC; 1966-1977) similarly mirrored Liberal hopes to manage national feeling, desires for change, and the national unity agenda. When the CYC’s mix of political activism and community engagement proved too hot to handle, it was abolished.

More modest hopes for social engineering then focused on Katimavik. Its 1977 creation reflected both fears about youthful rebellion and Quebec separatism and optimism about state capacity to foster social cohesion, harness youthful talent, and ‘fix’ the environment. An expression of a particular vision of the nation, it embodied the bicultural, anti-sovereignist dreams of such leading Liberals as Pierre E. Trudeau and Barney Danson (Southam, 373; Danson 169; see also Hébert).

Young volunteers, drawn two-thirds from English and one-third from French Canada, were enlisted in small groups to work in three regions for three months at a time in community-based projects that frequently targeted environmental and equity issues. In a revealing testament to the era’s “panic” about youth (or at least middle-class students), Katimavik’s “original three rules were no sex, no drugs, and no hitchhiking” (Mahood, 227). It nevertheless soon acquired a reputation for asking awkward questions of those in power. Many early recruits seem to have gone on to jobs in the volunteer and human rights sectors, which became government targets for downsizing in the late 20th century.

Katimavik’s liberal, sometimes progressive, sympathies made it a frequent political football. In 1979, the Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark shut it down. Funding was restored with Trudeau’s 1980 return to power. Six years later, Katimavik reached its apotheosis with “a budget of $19.7 million” and “slots for 1,584 participants in 132 groups” (McMullan & Snyder), when Brian Mulroney’s victorious Progressive Conservatives again cut federal funding. As Opposition leader, Jean Chrétien helped create “a private, non-profit organization to raise money” during the lean years of Tory rule (Kimber). As prime minister, he restored funding in 1994, albeit at lower levels. When Stephen Harper won first a minority government (2006) and then a majority (2011), Conservatives slammed “taxpayer-funded soapboxes afforded to the Trudeau progeny” (Justin Trudeau chaired Katimavik from 2002-2006, and Alexandre Trudeau chaired Canada World Youth), denouncing their equation of “statism with Canadian nationalism, and Canadian nationalism with the big-government policies of the Liberal Party” (Kheiriddim & Daifallah, 60, 62).

Relevant Dates:

  • 2012-2013: elimination of federal funding for Katimavik
  • 2002-2006: Justin Trudeau chairs Katimavik
  • 1994: Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government restores funding but at reduced levels
  • 1986: Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government eliminates funding for Katimavik
  • 1980: Pierre E. Trudeau’s Liberal government restores Katimavik funding
  • 1979: Joe Clark’s Conservative government shuts down Katimavik
  • 1977: creation of Katimavik by the federal Liberal government

Role or Position

For all its sometime appearance of a fiefdom for the Liberal Party, Katimavik envisioned a wider constituency of active Canadians, though like many official initiatives it had little success in recruiting beyond European Canada. At its best, it contributed to citizenship education for Canadian youth and the encouragement of collective action in addressing community problems. From its founding to the present, Katimavik’s shifting fortunes at the hands of both Liberal and Conservative administrations reveal what has been termed “partisan taint” (McGregor), making it often difficult to judge its real merits at any point in time.  

Implications and Consequences

Implications and Consequences

Democracy: Cuts to Katimavik form part of a broad range of policies by the two mainstream political parties that since the 1980s have reduced “opportunities for meaningful democratic participation in Canadian public institutions” (Stasiulis, 527). They also suggest government’s disinterest in actively addressing the democratic deficit associated with disadvantaged populations, in this case youth (Howe).

Silencing: Cuts to Katimavik embody the state suspicion of youth activism that was also visible during the 2010 G20 protests. And just as with efforts to silence Canadian scientists in the 21st century, Conservative cuts to Katimavik discourage the “oppositional engagement within the public sphere,” which scholars consider essential to a healthy democracy (Kennelly, 140).

Environment: Katimavik’s early engagement with environmental degradation made it an obvious target for governments committed to resource development with little regard to downstream consequences.

Photo: Katimavik.org

Date published: October 10, 2014

Sources