By Jaslyn English

On September 27, 2012 the provincial government cut the Ontario Ranger Program, a summer employment program for 17-year-olds to work outside in the provincial parks around Ontario.

The Ontario Ranger program has been going on for just under 70 years, and has approximately 15 camps across Ontario, employing over 300 teens as well as 45 supervisors every summer.

“My summer as an Ontario Ranger was one of my best. The experiences that I was lucky enough to have will stay with me for the rest of my life. It is unbelievable that such an incredible program was cut,” said Hilary Walton, a second year McMaster student who participated in the program in 2010.

This loss of youth programs is especially significant since unemployment rates for between 15-24 year old Canadians are currently soaring at double the national average.

Though the national average for unemployment, at 7.4 per cent, is currently lower than other countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which includes the Unites States, France, and Great Britain, our youth unemployment rate is one of the highest and was hit the hardest during the recent recession.

“The global economic crisis has hit youth very hard,” OECD employment division head Stefano Scarpetta told the CBC. “Governments should intervene quickly to provide adequate support to them.”

The lack of support from the government is evident when the testimonies of people who have participated in this program are taken into consideration, and what these same Canadians are now doing to try and stop the cutbacks from coming into effect.

“To fellow rangers, no explanation necessary. To those who aren’t, no explanation possible,” wrote previous participant on the online petition to stop the end of the program, summarizing the incredible opportunity that programs such as the Ontario Ranger Program provides for our youth.

The closure of these camps coincides with the federal government’s closing of the volunteer program, Katimavik, which creates volunteer opportunities for young Canadians all across the nation. Over 30,000 Canadian youth have volunteered with this organization, since it began during Pierre Trudeau’s government in the ‘70s.

These programs highlight the ability of youth to give back to the community and show them how to do so in a way unique to the programs themselves. In no other program can a group of 17-year-old girls canoe through northern Ontario and cut a government approved canoe trail through the wilderness. And, likewise, with Katimavik, where the volunteer opportunities are found only in this program, are young Canadians able to give back in a well-organized way that benefits society.

“Katimavik is an experience that can never be bound by a straight definition – it is a program where youth are given the tools to better themselves; to grow, learn, make friends and connect to new communities … while learning about and gaining a new perspective on the Canadian cultural and geo-physical landscape,” claims the blog Spokes & Spice, one of the many online forms of petitioning the cutbacks.

The elimination of these two programs is just the tip of the iceberg in youth funding cuts. Across the country, both the provincial and federal governments are tightening the portion of the budget spent on programs dedicated to youth employment and community outreach.

“In defunding Katimavik, the Conservative government is ignoring its own evidence of the organization’s benefits to youth and Canadian communities. For every dollar the organization spends, about $2.20 is generated for the host community. The program is a fiscally prudent way of getting young people to become active, engaged citizens, but these irresponsible Conservative budget cuts will kill it,” Liberal MP Justin Trudeau said in a press release about Katimavik cuts.

The only program that hasn’t seen any cut backs, is the cadet program under the Department of Defense, which costs twice as much per month as the Katimavik project did.

“We know that this government doesn’t care about empowering or investing in our youth,” Trudeau argued in parliament, while defending the program earlier on this year.

Through this lack of attention paid by the government, the past year has seen the loss of one third of the jobs for students that came from the main federal program, FSWEP, which fits post-secondary students with temporary employment.

Not only this, but because of the takeoff of tuition rates, less Canadian youth are in school than any other of the top five educated “first world” countries, including France, the United States, Germany and Italy, and is tied with the last, Great Britain.

The average student debt is $30,000 dollars, which converts to a sizeable down payment on a house or almost two extra years studying at an undergraduate level.

What this means, for all McMaster students, and those youth pursuing both educational and employment opportunities across Canada, is that, essentially, we have been forgotten.

With budget cuts across two tiers of our three-tier system, and a continuous loss of both jobs and educational opportunities for youth, it is incontrovertible that the needs of young Canadians are simply not being met on either the provincial or federal level.

With what even the federal government’s budget admits as being an “uncertain job market” for those looking for first time employment, it is hardly an overstatement to say that youth today need a helping hand integrating into the Canadian work force. The lack of programs, like Katimavik and the Ontario Ranger Program, that give Canadians both insight into their selves and their work ethic can only hinder the integration and motivation of young Canadians into a society that continuously neglects them.

In a time where it seems as though our government is in a competition with itself to cut corners in budgets at every turn no matter what cost to its citizens, it would seem appropriate if not necessary for it to throw a bone to its youth who has so often been refused on the steps of parliament hill.

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