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Province’s sudden funding cuts leave summer camps up creek with inadequate paddle

By: Nicole Buffie

Manitoba camp officials are scrambling after the province slashed or denied their funding for summer programming this year at the last minute.

Roland Rivard was shocked to receive a letter in the mail Friday informing him the non-profit organization he oversees wasn’t eligible for funding through the province’s Urban/Hometown Green Team grant program.


“I don’t know what we’re gonna do,” said Rivard, executive director of the St. Malo Catholic Camp.

The organization applied for $67,000 through the program to cover wages for nine full-time leadership positions: camp director, camp co-ordinator, head cook and leaders who create programming and mentor young counsellors.


The southeast Manitoba camp has relied on approximately $82,000 through the grant program in the last three years to recover from expenses incurred by the pandemic.

Rivard said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen.

“At this point, it probably looks like we’re just going to have to go into debt a little bit to continue operating the camp and try and adapt for next year,” he said.

The provincial Urban/Hometown Green Team grant program funds summer positions for people between the ages of 15 and 29 in municipal governments (excluding the City of Winnipeg), northern affairs community councils and non-profit organizations.


Non-profits receive up to $150,000 and are reimbursed the full Manitoba minimum wage paid to employees.


Budget 2024 promised an additional $730,000 for the grant program, which exceeded $5.9 million for this year’s intake, but the association who represents accredited camps in the province said eight of 27 got no funding this year.”


Kim Scherger, executive director of the Manitoba Camping Association, polled the organizations she represents to find 16 received less funding than in prior years, or none at all.


“The sites will suffer and the staff working are gonna suffer because they’re not gonna get paid what they need to get paid,” she said.

More than 800 applications were submitted for funding through the program this year; approximately 530 were approved.

Dorothy Fontaine, director of Camps with Meaning, was hoping for funding to offset post-pandemic fees and inflationary pressures.


The organization runs Camp Assiniboia west of Headingley and Camp Koinonia in Turtle Mountain Provincial Park, and employs 80 staff members who serve approximately 600 campers with a $1-million operational budget.


Camps with Meaning received no funding for summer programming.


“I don’t know if people realize, unless you have children, just how important camping is to Manitoba. It really is a wonderful thing that we do for our kids and our campers, but it’s also important for young adults who get really high- quality job opportunities,” Fontaine told the Free Press Monday.


“So this is really unfortunate… we’re not going to be able to pay them what they deserve to be paid, and so that’s disappointing.”

Fontaine was hoping to get $52,000 to fund 17 employee positions during the 2024 summer season.

“We run things on a pretty tight budget, so this is a significant hit for us.”

Applications are approved based on a point system and, according to grant program guidelines released by the province, municipal governments and community-based organizations “that can offer full-time employment opportunities for youth projects that build leadership and employment skills for youth and projects that can demonstrate community need and partnership” are favoured for funding dollars.


“Funding is not guaranteed even if an applicant was approved for a Green Team grant in a previous year,” the guideline says.


Summer camps charge a fraction of overall costs and rely on donations to cover the balance, Sherger said. Without the provincial grant, non-profits will have to find additional money to pay staff, or consider making programming cuts.


Scherger said many camps are still reeling from debt incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The St. Malo Catholic Camp experienced a noticeable decrease in attendance since the pandemic, when when restrictions put a lid on a lot of summer programming and parents were wary about sending their children away, Rivard said.

Previously, St. Malo had as many as 400 campers each year. Last year’s seven weeks of programming drew just 200 youths.


Expenses to run St. Malo last year exceeded $125,000, and the organization reported a shortfall of about $30,000, even with grants.


“We rely very much on these grants to be able to offer quality programming to make sure that we’re well-staffed and have enough people, so that they don’t experience burnout as young adults who are working for the summer,” he said.


In 2022 the Manitoba Camps Association lobbied the government for relief funding for struggling operations, but the $750,000 allocated only scratched the surface.


“We hear from the government so much about how it is important to take care of people in so many different ways, mental health… but programs are going to have to get cut from individual camps, staff are going to have to get cut,” Scherger said.

“Mental health is not going to be doing very good for these people.”

Minister of Municipal and Northern Relations Ian Bushie said Monday he will meet with the MCA to investigate where the funding allocation went awry and how the province can help to fund them moving forward.

“We had a record intake and limited resources… there’s a tough decision to be made sometimes,” he said.


Scherger hopes the NDP government sees where it erred and restore funding.


“Some kids get one week an entire year where they’re going to be in a safe and loving environment surrounded by people who care about them, have three meals a day, they’re gonna be warm and dry for that week, but all of that could get cut back,” Scherger said.

“It’s horrible to think about that happening.”


Meanwhile, Rivard is planning his next move for St. Malo.


He said he might borrow from funding the registered charity received through the federal government’s Canada Summer Jobs Program to keep staffing levels on par with previous years.


Cancelling any programming is out of the question, he said.


”It’s something that we very much feel called to do in service to our mission and our vision for our ministry. It’s not something that we would consider.”

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