It did. It was brilliant.
I am now going back to Kenora—Rainy River, another Conservative-held riding. These Canadians are writing or tweeting us, posting on Facebook or writing in emails. They are faxing and phoning NDP MPs and saying, “Please stand up for us in the House of Commons. Please represent us, because our MPs won't do that. This budget is not good”.
This is another letter from Kenora—Rainy River.
It says, “I want to register my strong protest about the Conservative government's elimination in the recent budget of a very positive program for young people in Canada. Katimavik volunteers have visiting Sioux Lookout for the past three years under a program where they learn cultural diversity and civic engagement. In fact, Sioux Lookout has a history with Katimavik dating back to the late 1970s.
“I have had the privilege of supervising the work placements of many of these young people at the Salvation Army thrift store. We are all volunteers at the Sally Ann. We are all working to better our community and our cross-cultural relations. We support recycling, reducing and reusing, and the Katimavik youth have been active in helping us pursue our mandate. We have appreciated the enthusiasm and excitement these youth have shown for Sioux Lookout. We have also learned about their commitment to a better country, their interesting community, aboriginal issues, and their idealistic goal of striving to save the planet.
“These are kids 17 to 21 years of age who earn $2 a day for six months of tireless volunteering, often seven days a week in communities like ours. They are frequently trying to make up their minds about what to do with their lives, and the Katimavik experience helps shape those decisions.
“This is a significant program for youth. It broadens their knowledge of Canada and of our French-English-first nations heritage. It prepares them to join the workforce by giving them valuable work, life and leadership skills while fostering community development.
“The Conservatives have been whittling away at Katimavik for years. When my son experienced Katimavik in 2007, it was a nine-month program, with three months spent in three different communities, and it always included a French experience. Katimavikers then earned $3 a day. For those kids who completed the program, there was a $1,000 survivor's bonus. They were proud kids who received that cheque.
“Now it is a six-month program—two times three months—and the kids have to pay to apply and pay to join. Long gone is the final thank-you cheque.
“Surely this program cannot be a big-ticket item for the government, yet it's a priceless experience for both the participants and the communities lucky enough to enjoy their presence. Last year more than half a million hours of community work were performed by Katimavik youth, but that is down from three-quarters of a million hours the year before because the government keeps slashing the number of participating communities. I am distressed to see the direction we are heading under a Conservative majority, where successful and inexpensive programs for youth are eradicated mid-term.
“Katimavik was just entering the third year of a funding agreement whose term ends in March 2013. The government will undoubtedly incur costs to cancel housing rental agreements, vehicle leases, staff contracts, etc.
“It's hard not to think this is a vindictive move by the Conservatives, who view Katimavik as some other initiative, no matter that it has benefited 30,000 young people since its inception, and assisted numerous communities like Sioux Lookout across Canada.
“This is a valuable program for youth. It makes no sense to eliminate it. What kind of message are we giving our young people when we cut important opportunities for them like this while we increase our spending on prisons by the millions?”
That was a comment from Ms. Mombourquette from Sioux Lookout. I thank Ms. Mombourquette for writing in about Katimavik.
I will continue on.
A constituent from south Vancouver writes, “I'm devastated to learn that as part the 2012 federal budget, our Conservative government has cancelled Katimavik. This is a program that invests in Canadian youth and changes lives for the better. Since 1977 this program has allowed more than 30,000 young Canadians to get involved in more than 2,000 communities across the country.
I am one of those 30,000. My daughter was supposed to be one as well; she was to leave in July for six months. Such a tragic waste of such a valuable program.”
This is from the British Columbia Southern Interior: “It is a hidden economic cost to cut Katimavik. I worked for Katimavik for several years. Now I volunteer with the local Katimavik program. The Katimavik project provides over 5,000 hours of volunteer support to local charities. It strengthens the capacities of these non-profits to serve the community. As local organizations jointly collaborate their support with the Katimavik program, they discover new ways of working together and of jointly serving their community.
“I've seen first-hand how this program fosters resilience and builds the leadership skills of thousands of young people, enabling them to prosper into adulthood. They go home recognizing their personal responsibility in building sustainable communities and valuing active participation in the community. Many participants carry on their community leadership throughout their lifetime.
“It's not uncommon to hear participants say, 'It has changed my life.' ”
I heard that four times this evening when current Katimavik volunteers in the Katimavik Guelph project heard that the 41st Parliament is planning to deny this kind of leadership experience to Canadian youth and community organizations in our communities and across Canada in the future.
“For the past 35 years, 30,000 Canadian youth have made a difference in communities across Canada. It is not uncommon to hear participants say, 'It has changed my life.' They leave the program with increased confidence, ready to go into the workforce or go back to school, passionate about pursuing a new-found goal.
“For those whose lives have been filled with challenges beyond their control, it gives them a chance to realize and harness their strengths. For those who've had more resources growing up, it broadens their understanding of the privileges they've had and the challenges many families have on a daily basis. At a time when civic engagement and voter turnout are at an all-time low, when youth unemployment rates are double the national average, this is clearly the worst time to cut Katimavik.
“Katimavik's ability to promote and instill long-term social responsibility and civic involvement and to provide job skills for our young people is needed more than ever before. I hope for the sake of tomorrow's youth that you can emulate the leadership skills of these young people and take the necessary action to reverse the government's decision.”
That is another Canadian voice.
This is from Edmonton, Alberta, yet another Conservative-held riding. We are giving those Canadians a voice on the floor of the House of Commons.
This lady writes, “I'm writing in response to the funding cuts to Katimavik just announced in the federal budget. I can't believe the government would be so short-sighted and narrow-minded as to wipe out a program that clearly offers nothing but good for Canadian youth.
“A country's longevity lies in the strength of its younger generations. Volunteering and exchanges build resilient, compassionate, intelligent adults who have a better understanding of their world and the people in it. It is ludicrous to assume that Canada does not benefit from youth who can see beyond their own bubble.
“Cutting funding to Katimavik shows a clear disdain for a program that promotes values fundamental to a healthy society. I am ashamed to be governed by a Parliament that fails to see the necessity of volunteers and young people. I would appreciate it if you could make it clear to those in Ottawa that this move is not sitting well with students here in Edmonton, Alberta”.
From the heart of a Conservative riding, here is another Canadian who is speaking out and saying she does not accept the cuts in the Conservative budget.
I'll move on to Toronto. To the member of Parliament for Davenport, an exceptional member of Parliament, a constituent of his states that, “I am writing you as a concerned constituent in your riding regarding the recent decision to remove government funding for the youth program Katimavik in March 2013. In short, I feel this is a poor divestment from Canadian youth and I would like to see the decision challenged”.
He goes on to talk about his experience with Katimavik as a volunteer project leader and resource person and says, “These experiences have given me a clear understanding of the values of the program that has shaped up to 1,000 youth per year since the early 1980s. Here are a few concise points on the values and importance of the Katimavik program.
“The program enforces Canadian values such as diversity appreciation, civic engagement and healthy living. The program unifies Canadians from various provinces who share their experiences, reducing the notion of regionalism in our country. The program benefits 7 to 14 social service organizations in about a hundred communities across Canada with full-time volunteers throughout the year. The program builds the skill sets and confidence of Canadian youth to work in social sectors.
“I personally continue to work in the youth engagement and human rights field. I am only one of the many examples.
“According to my unofficial calculations, the program costs $2 million a year and generates more than $12 million in volunteer work revenue.
“The program allows for stronger connections in Canada by exposing young Canadians to three different regions of Canada outside their home community. The program contributes to creating safer spaces for female and lesbian, gay, transsexual, transgender and queer Canadian youth by promoting egalitarian values in group living and connecting with social services of various communities focused on women's and LGBTTQ rights.
“I will happily discuss with you my thoughts in more detail if you would like to hear about the program as a whole”.
There again, from Davenport, Toronto, are concerns about Katimavik.
I will go to someone from LaSalle—Émard, who writes: “Please include me among those who find the government's decision in the budget to end funding to Katimavik as lacking in insight and judgment. From all accounts, Katimavik offers young Canadians an opportunity to see other parts of Canada while engaging in worthwhile community service. I understand many participants want to work in the non-profit sector, thereby improving the lives of less fortunate Canadians. At a time when youth unemployment is very high and many young people are looking for direction and meaning in their future, this move seems especially incomprehensible. I urge you to lend your voice to those asking the government to reconsider the decision”.
Mr. Speaker, I will continue, of course. He who hesitates is lost.
I have one more to read. Even as we speak on the floor of this House of Commons, Canadians are flooding our email inboxes and fax machines and are making phone calls, so it is hard to keep abreast of the numerous Canadians across this country who are asking us to speak out on their behalf.
I was thinking I would move on to another issue, but I just have a fresh pile of emails and tweets and postings from Facebook, and I will have to come back to them.
However, the last one I am going to read from this older pile is from someone in the B.C. southern interior. This person says the following: “I participated in Katimavik in 1979. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I fondly remember the good times and the bad, learning from each other as we connected with fellow Canadians from all provinces. This program helped me immeasurably develop and mature and transition from high school into the greater beyond. It opened doors, working side by side with people from the small communities with whom we lived and gained experience from.
“The loss of this program is a blow to all Canadians. This kind of endeavour keeps Canadians engaged and helps them to become productive citizens. There should be more programs such as Katimavik, not less. It's a sad day indeed for all Canadians.
“I had hoped to send my children on this learning adventure, to share with them the majesty of our great country, even for low-income families. How short-sighted is this decision to cancel Katimavik? Consider my kids, who may now hang around on street corners, perhaps getting involved with seedier individuals, as there are few opportunities for them to experience something other than a low-income family existence. I wonder how much this costs Canadians in the long run, how many of our kids will end up on drugs or involved in crime as there are only low-paying jobs awaiting them, if they are lucky, or who have no concept of what Canada is like.
“Isn't it ironic that this government is willing to spend billions more on building prisons and funding crime instead of enriching the lives of our kids? Shameful, myopic and stupid. That's really what this kind of decision exemplifies”.
We thank very much the writer of this letter from British Columbia for raising that point.
The letters talk about connecting with fellow Canadians in all provinces. That is what we do in the NDP caucus. We have Canadians from every part of this country, from every part of this land, working together.
However, the government does not share this same perception of Canada as a united country. We see in this budget what will be a dismal and dark and divisive decade if we go through to 2015. We have seen how the government tries to divide one generation against another. We have seen how the government divides one region from another region, one community from another community. This is how the Prime Minister functions, by dividing Canadians. Katimavik brings Canadians together. Perhaps that is why the government is trying to axe it, because it provides a unity that the government does not want to encourage. The government wants to encourage division and to pit one Canadian against another.
On this half of the House, in the official opposition, we say that what Canadians want is unity. Canadians want to work together. We want an end to this kind of divisive politics. That is why we are going to be fighting to save the kinds of programs that bring Canadians together, because Canadian families deserve better.
Mr. Speaker, I said earlier today that the Conservative MPs would start to see the light, that they would start to smile and we would see the light bulbs going on.
As we have been criticizing this budget, I am seeing now that there has been some movement. Maybe it is because of the tweets that they are getting from constituents. Maybe it is because of the emails and the phone calls they are getting from seniors and future seniors.
I do not know, but I am certainly feeling the love from the other side. That can only mean they are starting to understand why Canadians are reacting so negatively to the budget. I get the sense that the Conservatives are starting to understand why these cuts hurt Canadians.
Certainly it is a good thing that in the course of debate and through these many emails, tweets, the postings on Facebook and the very heartfelt letters from Canadians right across this country, we are touching or reaching Conservative members of Parliament. That makes it all worthwhile to be collecting these comments from Canadians from coast to coast to coast. We are going to continue to work, because if we can have Conservative MPs stand up for their constituents and this country and vote against this budget, that would be a very good thing. We certainly hope that happens.
I have a bunch of new emails and comments that have arrived even while I have been speaking. The wonder of modern technology is that now people can have their word brought forward on the floor of the House of Commons. So many people are doing that, and so many are younger Canadians. This is what has been most inspiring about the last couple of days of this debate. It is young Canadians who are speaking out; it is young Canadians who are tweeting and urging their Conservative members of Parliament to vote against the budget.
It is young Canadians who are expressing their hopes and dreams not only about their own futures and those of their classmates, friends and families, but more importantly also the future of their communities, their provinces, their regions and the country. That is what we are finding so inspiring about this, the words of inspiration coming from young Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I am going to continue. We have a message from a constituent in another Conservative riding, Lennox and Addington, who writes the following: “I live in a Conservative riding, Lennox and Addington. I am disgusted by the latest budget. I do not believe that my member of Parliament has any intent or any ability to represent me and fight for what I want to see in the federal budget.
“There are many areas of concern, including the cuts to the old age security, as well as cuts to the public service, Elections Canada, and the emphasis on jails and fighter jets. I have a 15-year-old son, and I am very concerned about his ability to make a decent living in the future. There seems to be no focus on jobs unless they have to do with exploiting the oil sands in Alberta.
“Please continue to fight on our behalf and let the Conservatives know that most Canadians can see through their flimsy speaking points and their attempt to distract us with the elimination of the penny”.
Those were very apt comments from another Canadian in another Conservative-held riding, who is concerned about the cuts to the OAS, the public service, Elections Canada and, the most important recurring theme, the emphasis on jails and fighter jets. We have heard about the latter when we have talked about cuts to services, and cuts to youth programs and cuts to pensions.
Canadians can add things up. They are saying this about the astronomical cost of the F-35 fiasco, which started at $9 billion and has now escalated to somewhere around $40 billion. No one on that side can tell us what it is going to cost, although we have certainly been asking. They cannot for the simple reason—