Funding for Katimavik

Hon. Jim Munson: To the Leader of the Government in the Senate, did the government cut the program because it is a Liberal initiative?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): Honourable senators, if that were the case we still have a lot of cutting to do.

The fact of the matter is this program’s usefulness has now passed. I have made very clear that Katimavik made no effort to raise any of its own funds; it relied solely on the taxpayer of Canada.

The government participates in many programs to support our youth. The employment numbers out today point to the fact that a significant number of those jobs were for youth.

Furthermore, there are many areas in this country where businesses, manufacturing and various organizations are crying out for skilled workers. I would suggest that we focus on ensuring that our young people know of these positions that are available and that they are properly trained, whether through skills training or colleges and universities, to ensure that they are well equipped to fill these jobs that are so urgently crying for people to fill them.

Senator Munson: In probably one of the leader’s favourite papers, the Ottawa Citizen, there was a column today by Elizabeth Payne. She made an interesting point. She said that Katimavik should be a Tory favourite, owing to the fact that it is aligned with Conservative values of volunteerism and youth engagement. She suggested that the government might want to consider rebranding Katimavik. Its current name means “meeting place” in Inuktitut, and it is fitting, given Canada’s proud Aboriginal heritage. However, perhaps — a more Conservative-friendly name could save the program. What about “the Governor General’s youth corps” or “the royal Canadian volunteer corps”?

I just know these things. The leader’s answer moments ago — talk about taking it to another level — “this is about Trudeau time” and so on and forth.

It is hard to imagine, as Ms. Payne said, a federal politician who would not like the idea. You could call it “Torytic,” or whatever you want to call it. It is difficult to argue with the benefit of this program.

Would you stop chirping, senator? I am trying to ask a question. You chirp all the time.

Each dollar invested in the program produces roughly $2.20 return for the communities Katimavik serves. How can one argue with that?

We have hundreds of emails from parents. Those who signed up for the program this year, who are still in the program and who are ready to go this summer, cannot go. They completed the selection process for the upcoming sessions and now they are left out in the cold.

One mother said the following:

My son was accepted to the July run of the Katimavik program. He was excited about his future, excited about seeing a different part of Canada, and excited about helping others, because he was accepted in the program. He did not apply to university or college this year. Now what does he do?

This was his dream, and our government has crushed it. Madam leader, it is not our government, and certainly not my government, that has crushed this young man’s dream. As his mother asked, I now ask the leader: What does he do?

Senator LeBreton: First, when the honourable senator suggested at the beginning of his question that the Ottawa Citizen is my favourite newspaper, as a matter of fact, it makes a good liner for my cat litter box.

The fact of the matter is, as I mentioned before, Katimavik has long outlived its usefulness. It is paid for directly by the taxpayer. We were elected on jobs, the economy and prosperity for the future. We have not raised taxes.

Since the honourable senator is worried about students and student jobs, the Economic Action Plan 2012 provides an additional $50 million to assist more young people in gaining tangible skills and experience through the Youth Employment Strategy. I would suggest to the honourable senator that he direct the mother who wrote the email to other programs that the government has to assist young people. It would be advisable that he do that.

The budget also doubles the resources of the Industrial Research and Development Internship Program to place even more students into hands-on research and internships in Canadian companies.

We have provided many opportunities for youth. Previously, as I pointed out in this chamber, we permanently increased Canada Summer Jobs by $10 million — 3,500 additional jobs per year, for a total of 40,000 jobs for students each summer. As well, Career Focus helps employers provide recent graduates with internships; this program helped 2,800 graduates in 2010-11.

Honourable senators, these are the programs that young people should be focused towards, not a 30-year-old program in which a very few people participate. Katimavik itself, as the sponsor of this program, has done absolutely nothing, other than to rely on the taxpayer, to raise one cent. If they were so committed to the program, why were they not out raising money on their own to keep this program going?

Senator Munson: There are robo-calls, and now there are robo-answers. Tony Clement can spend $50 million on gazebos. That was a Summer Work Experience program. The leader never, ever answers a direct question.

What does the leader say, as I asked previously, to the mother of this young boy who signed up for the Katimavik program and was ready to go? It crushed her son’s dream. What does the leader say to that family? Could she answer that?

Senator LeBreton: I answered that. I suggested that the honourable senator have that mother direct her son to the Canada Youth Employment Strategy. There are all kinds of opportunities for young people, whether it is working in universities or manufacturing, where they can get meaningful training for jobs that will last well into the future.

I know the honourable senator has a hard time accepting this because of his particular background, but the fact of the matter is that Katimavik is dead and the government will not be reinstating the program, no matter how many times the honourable senator gets up and asks questions about it.