Katimavik, RIP

Blog, Education, Marco Navarro-Genie

Governments and government programmes do not build communities; people do.

That the politician who dreamed up Katimavik would endanger his own life by going on a hunger strike years ago to save the program from being cut is, from a self-interested perspective, understandable.

Jacques Hebert’s hunger strike is understandable because politicians in this country are legacy seekers, a trend that has been accentuated since the 1960s (It’s always wonderful to leave legacies to others when those others will be paying for them!).  Katimavik is a federally-funded youth programme that pays for young Canadians to travel and volunteer in communities across the country. It also developed an environmentalist streak called “Eco-citizenship and Active Living.”

Hebert’s life-threatening resistance is also a clear indication of the emotional investment that some folks have on Katimavik. Many saw the hunger striking elderly politician as heroic, indicating that such emotions are beyond the interests of the program’s intellectual father and first president, and reach perhaps into every participant –or so it seems. They certainly reach into every person who works or contracts for it, by the sounds of the all the facebook pages trying to defend the $50-plus million agency.

Katimavik’s website indicates an over-inflated sense of what the program does: “Building a nation…one community at the time.”  The concept of one single nation, especially for an organization located in Quebec, is a throwback to an era that no longer exists in Canada.  There are many First Nations in the country, and the federal power recognizes the Quebecois and Acadians as nations now. That they are building communities to build this country is just hyperbole.

The sheer unromantic reality is that Canada is a state that houses many nations within it.  From that perspective, Katimavik is out of step with Canada.  Canadians have built strong communities in this country, and the strongest of those communities were not built with state dollars.  The Trudeau vision of this country was out of step with what this country was back then (Quebeckers and Albertans have been the most aware to that reality) ; it is out of step with what the country has become since then.

Whatever place the romantic and the emotional may have in the social fabric, it is not the job of government to promote, much less to provide them. It is not its place to pay for vision-quest trips, or to foot the bill for youth to have life-changing experiences and decisions. Nothing prevents Katimavik to channel their emotional convictions and raise their own funds to promote their one-nation vision of the country among the young.

Judging from the reactions, it seems that Katimavik makes the young into servile dependents on the notion that good things might only be achieved if paid for and orchestrated by government. The program has given many people the silly impression that without it, people cannot or would not come together.  In the words of one of the former participants, now an emotive critic of the program’s demise, we see precisely what’s wrong. He claimed that axing the program

deprives communities and young people of an opportunity to grow and build something together.

May be so.  But it’s one opportunity.  One.  Surely, not the only one in this vast land. There is nothing wrong with government and politicians inspiring the young, by the way, but why have a state program specifically allocated to such task. Even less so when we consider what the young think of government and politicians these days.

There is no denying that communities and young people can and should come together, grow and build. But there is likely less growth and less autonomy building when citizens expect that government will do and facilitate these things for them.

People build communities. They build them best when the states stays out of their hair.