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Katimavik alumni petition for funding

Trudeau promised funding during election campaign

Mat Barkley participated in Katimavik in 2010. He's feeling optimistic about the potential for increased federal funding.
Mat Barkley participated in Katimavik in 2010. He’s feeling optimistic about the potential for increased federal funding.   Emma Meldrum

Katimavik alumni and supporters are trying to hold Justin Trudeau to his promises.

In September 2015, Trudeau told Radio Canada he would return funding to Katimavik, a program which provides volunteer opportunities to Canadian youth.

A petition on Change.org has collected over 7,000 signatures in just four days. The petition’s organizer, Sami Lester, is a Katimavik alumnus.

“I can’t believe it,” she said about the response so far. “I spent six or seven hours on the Internet on Saturday. I’m thinking of every person I can tweet this to.”

“I’m a full-time youth worker now,” Lester said. “There are so many kids with no future ahead of them. I need Katimavik back to recommend to them.”

Katimavik used to send participants to three locations during a nine month span. The youth lived with other volunteers and a group leader.

The hashtag slogan #BringbackKatimavik made waves over the weekend as alumni and supporters tweeted about the petition and their hope for government funding.

Many supporters contacted Prime Minister Trudeau directly. They also tweeted at Melanie Joly, the minister of heritage.

Joly’s office said the minister will not be available for comment until Thursday.

The Harper government cut funding to Katimavik in 2012. Trudeau, then Liberal leader, spoke out strongly against this decision at the time, telling the CBC it was an “ideological” decision. 

Since then, the organization has received grants from the Quebec government. But the program is now limited to internships within the province.

“The eco-internship has helped keep us alive,” explained Virginie Thibeau, director of operations at Katimavik. The internship is a three-month long volunteer opportunity – a third of the length of previous programs.

Thibeau says that if Katimavik receives money from the federal government, some important changes are likely.

“It’s not going to be exactly the same,” she said. “It will be something like [it was before]. We just want another youth volunteer program, but it depends on funding.”

Trudeau has promised $25 million dollars to “restore a modernized youth service program.” 

Marco Adamovic is advocating on Twitter for federal funding. But he says it’s important for Katimavik to have some measure of financial independence from the government.

Adamovic applied in 2003 after hearing Justin Trudeau speak about the program on CBC Radio. He volunteered in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta.

“You leave your community and you come back changed for the better,” he said.

“The program bridges gaps between urban and rural, francophone and anglophone. The program gives you perspective of where you are among your peers.”

Lester also had only positive things to say about Katimavik.

“I had the experience of living with 11 other people and I developed social skills and people skills that were invaluable.”

The prime minister himself is the minister of youth. But Melanie Joly’s heritage department was previously in charge of funding Katimavik.

Alumni have pointed to several good signs: when Trudeau announced his bid for the Liberal leadership, he was wearing a t-shirt with the Katimavik logo. And a petition to restore funding was started on the Liberal party’s website. The program was founded when Pierre Trudeau was prime minister.

Still, there’s no official word yet.

“I think we have a good chance. But I can’t say for sure,” Thibeau said.

Adamovic and Lester are also optimistic.

“I don’t want to be too hopeful. I have reasons to be hopeful – it’s pretty much written in his platform,” Lester said. “Canada needs Katimavik back.”