Chief Commissioner's Open Letter and Reply

Our Chief Commissioner, Scouter Glenn Armstrong, has circulated an Open Letter directed to Commissioners in Scouts Canada. Our SCOUT eh! Chair, Scouter Mike Reid, has responded to the Open Letter. Before doing so he sought counsel and advice from the elected officers and provincial representatives of SCOUT eh! and took into consideration the views expressed by a number of members who have already been apprised of the Chief Commissioner's letter. We welcome your comment on the Chief Commissioner's letter and upon the response of our SCOUT eh! Chair. E-mail to <> or directly to one of the elected officers or representatives listed on our Contact page.

An open letter from Glenn Armstrong, Chief Commissioner of Scouts Canada

(this letter as a pdf)

Working towards meaningful change:
"If Scouting ain't broke, don't fix it??"

An open letter to the Commissioners in Scouts Canada:

As I travel Canada and meet with Scouters and Commissioners, I am often asked about dealing with those members who are not contributing in a positive manner. New ideas and innovation in how we deliver program to the youth of Canada is a positive aspect of a Movement like Scouting. However I am being asked about how to deal with members, often long term members, who are not prepared to support the organization, and are simply not prepared to move forward with us as we evolve to meet the changing needs of youth.

By nature, Scouting is a traditionalist Movement. Yes that sounds like an oxy-moron, but Scouting in Canada must move forward to meet the needs of Canadian youth, while observing our values and traditions. I personally believe that Scouting's core values do not change and are timeless; that Scouting must adapt and evolve in how we deliver program to youth within those core values; and that our strength is in our working together towards our common mission.

Scouting in Canada has undergone a period of immense change during the past eight years. Those changes fall into a couple of categories: administration and structure; governance; and program. Each of these areas was broken to some degree. Through the strategic directions process we are investing enormous energies in making many of the changes that are necessary.

Within administration and structure goes the stuff that we all "love to hate": organizational structure, policies, procedures, bylaws, legislation, insurance, strategic plans, marketing studies and the Membership Management System. Scouting in Canada must operate in a business-like manner. We are subject to many of the same laws as businesses and certainly the same laws as other not-for-profit organizations, including the National Building and Electrical Codes, National Fire Code, insurance regulations, Income tax laws, new Privacy legislation and a myriad of others of which most volunteers do not have the time to track. This area was broken and needs ongoing fixing.

Within governance, changes were needed. When Bylaw II was approved, it was acknowledged that the work was not finished and that Scouting in Canada will need to continue to clarify our needs and define our governance structure.

Within program, the issues are loss of membership, relevancy to today's Canadian youth and the recruitment, training and retention of motivated volunteers in a time where volunteerism is no longer as attractive to 25 to 40 year-old parents. This area is broken and we need to focus our energy on fixing it.

Change can cause stress and dissent. Scouting in Canada has not been immune from either of these influences. The work to-date isn't perfect and it isn't finished. When Bylaw II was approved in May of 2002, the approval was not unanimous. However the majority has ruled. I believe we now need to work cooperatively in the ongoing evolution of our Movement in Canada.

While discussion and differing opinions are a part of our traditions, we have historically kept it within the Movement and have been able to work out our differences. There will always be those who wish to address issues arising out of change and there are legitimate mechanisms in place to do this. It is time to move on as we have done for nearly one hundred years.

Scouts Canada is both a "grass roots" Movement and a national Movement, with a long history of valuable service to the youth of Canada. It is a Movement that is justly proud of its excellent reputation of service to youth and adults. Scouts Canada has a duty to protect that reputation and the goodwill that flows from it, as well as other Scouts Canada resources which include, real property, intellectual property, finances, volunteers and staff. Every member of Scouts Canada has made an age-appropriate promise to carry out the Spirit of the Scout Law, and we must be wise in the use of Scouting's resources to ensure they are available to achieve the Mission for present and future generations.

Scouts Canada must also diligently protect all resources including intellectual property. This includes any improper or unauthorized use of the term "Scouts" or any protected logo or symbol. Members are reminded that in Bylaws, Policies and Procedures (BP&P), there are policies and procedures on the approved uses of the Scouts Canada logo and trademarks, and that for other uses you must obtain written permission from the Executive Commissioner/CEO, on behalf of the Corporation.

The purpose of this letter is to ask all members to think about their obligations and responsibilities to Scouting in Canada, its adult members, and the youth we serve.

All positions are annual appointments. Re-appointments will be based on annual evaluation. Each Group Commissioner, Area Commissioner, Council Commissioner and the Executive Commissioner/CEO has a responsibility to review the applications for membership each year within their respective area of responsibility. I ask that before you confirm appointment for the ensuing one-year term, that you ensure the applicants have the best interests of Scouting at heart. The Volunteer Recruitment and Development (VRAD) policies and procedures are in place and you have the authority and responsibility to ensure they are observed.

My objective in writing this letter is clarify our position. We need members and friends of Scouting to join us in a more positive move to the future and to concentrate their efforts on what is best in achieving the Mission. We are continuing our near-century long adventure. We need to revitalize our Movement and we need all of your positive energy to do so.

Yours in Scouting,
Glenn Armstrong, Chief Commissioner
and Chair of the Board of Governors

An open letter in response by Mike Reid, Chairman, SCOUT eh!

(this letter as a pdf)

Dear Scouter Glenn,

I am encouraged by your open letter to the Commissioners entitled "Working Towards Meaningful Change". Working for positive change is what we are all about. We all must be committed to focusing our energies on reforming the Movement. SCOUT eh! is comprised largely of front-line section leaders who are committed to giving their best and, despite our differences, to working from within Scouts Canada to move forward toward the goal of improving Scouting.

I am particularly encouraged that you have pointed out three areas where you see clear room for improvement: administration/structure, program, and governance. We certainly concur, and I would like to offer the following in response to your letter: With respect to administration/structure, I wholeheartedly agree that, "Scouting in Canada must operate in a business-like manner". Scouts Canada's finances have been an area of ongoing concern for us. Additionally, I think it would be very positive to work towards a structure that could be more responsive to and representative of the needs of the ordinary member, while still maintaining our national identity as the premier Scouting association in Canada.

Concerning program, the same issues of membership loss, adult training and worthwhile program content are near and dear to our hearts. It would be wise to work towards a structure that would be more responsive and representative of the needs of the ordinary members whose daily works and exceptional devotion are the engine of Scouting for Canadian youth. As a group of trained and spirited Scouters, we are particularly well suited to make contributions in this area, and I urge you to challenge us in this way.

The issue of governance is clearly contentious. We are, however, heartened to hear you say that the work to date isn't perfect and isn't finished. We certainly don't expect perfection but that said, fully redressing what your predecessor had recognized as the "democratic deficit" will certainly improve Scouts Canada. Our position is that meaningful democracy within Scouts Canada is not just an ideological or theoretical goal. It is rather, a broadly inclusive construct that would be an avenue for progress on all the other issues we face together. We have 23,000 adult volunteers in the movement who sustain Scouts Canada and constitute a tremendous pool of talent and energy.

A structure that truly represents these members would certainly benefit from a better utilization of the vast and varied resources Scouters are all too eager to bring to the challenge of serving Scouting's youth. It would also heighten their spirit and morale, and deepen their commitment to our noble mission. It would enhance positive two-way communication. A Scouter of your experience can hardly underestimate the incredible usefulness that comes from effectively energizing an entire movement of capable people and empowering them toward a common goal.

You are absolutely right: change is stressful. By definition, you simply can't have progress without change. The secret is to try to make change in a positive way so that the stress will be worth it. To implement positive, well-received change requires that you involve those directly affected by the process through open discussion of the issues arising out of change, as well as the issues driving the change. This freedom of expression is one of the traditional core values of our culture and of the movement we want to sustain together. We strongly encourage you to enhance the legitimate mechanisms for Scouters that enable them to participate in the process and to make them accessible to all Scouters, at all levels. We understand that not everyone will be pleased with the results, but excluding everyone in the name of expediency will dramatically sour the process for many Scouters. Scouters are, after all, simply people.

Regarding the annual review of appointments, we agree that in the best interests of Scouting, we need the best possible people to run the movement at all levels. On the other hand, we take exception to the model in which "all positions are annual appointments". We feel that a system in which the members-at-large are excluded or have limited say in any appointments or office-holders is not likely to generate the best list of candidates. It is not a system, which encourages the cream to rise to the top. We all accept and expect democracy in our country, our Troops, our Courts of Honour and our sections. Why not in Scouts Canada?

Even within the current system it is important to make a sharp distinction between the annual review of appointments, which are discretionary, and the mistaken notion that there is a provision, let alone a responsibility, to review applications for membership each year. Membership in Scouts Canada is something, which is explicitly dictated and protected in the by-laws of the corporation. It should not be at the discretion of any particular Commissioner. More to the point, allowing continued membership to be the subject of Commissioner discretion would open the door to favouritism, discrimination and personal animosity. Further, it is unnecessary, as there is already provision for removing members for legitimate cause. Scouting in a democratic society cannot sustain itself long if its membership believes it is under the thumb of a hand-selected elite.

In your letter, we have one other area of concern. We would not want your discussion of "members who are not contributing in a positive manner" to be misinterpreted.

As I am sure you are aware, the precise raison d'être of SCOUT eh! is the implementation of several aspects of Scouts Canada's own Strategic Directions, the development of which we very strongly supported and in which we encouraged all Scouts Canada members to participate.

The constitution of SCOUT eh! addresses the following in particular:

Strategic Direction No. 7: Structures, systems and management organizationally accountable to members

Strategic Direction No. 7.1: Democratic reform designed to enhance the capabilities of Councils and Areas to have input and influence on the decisions of the Board of Governors.

Strategic Direction No. 5.1: A feeling of connectedness to, pride in and ownership of the organization based on an inclusive decision-making process.

Strategic Direction No. 1.2: A halt in the precipitous decline in membership.

Strategic Direction No. 7.2: Achievement of financial stability at all levels of the organization.

When these are achieved, SCOUT eh! will have fulfilled its mandate.

Working towards the changes envisioned in the Strategic Directions, which we have all adopted, can make some people uncomfortable. Here again you are right to identify that change may cause stress and dissent. Stress and discomfort may well arise when members identify and verbalize difficult issues. That does not mean and should not imply that those members are not making a positive contribution. We must remember that we are all Scouters and that we are working towards a revitalized movement in which we will have a more positive future. Our goals are congruent with those of Scouts Canada. We ARE members of Scouts Canada. We trust that you, as our Chief Commissioner, will ensure that your message is not used by some as a pretext to impede our members in their efforts to achieve the progress envisioned in the Strategic Directions.

Unfortunately, there are some who fail to understand or who misrepresent our purpose. They dismiss our efforts to attain democracy and accountability in the movement as trivial. They think it detracts from program delivery. On the contrary, democracy is one of the cornerstones of the WOSM Gifts for Peace program which was initiated to celebrate Scouting's Centenary. Seeking democracy and accountability does not detract from our role in program delivery; it enhances that role. More to the point, our Scouts look to our example, and that example must be consistent with the democratic tradition of public advocacy. Scouts are more worldly today. They are very aware of what is happening in the world around them and they bring sophistication to their perceptions that you or I would have found alien as youths.

Finally, just in case there was ever any doubt, let us clarify our position. We are and always have been members and friends of Scouting. We want to move towards a more positive future. We want to concentrate our efforts on what is best in achieving our common Mission. We want to revitalize our movement. We are deeply committed to being wise in the use of Scouting resources, and would like nothing better than to ensure that they are available to achieve the Mission for present and future generations. We are proud to accept our obligations and responsibilities to Scouting.

In closing, let me join with you to work co-operatively and positively towards a better future for the Movement we love so much. As I have often said before, we are ready, willing and able to help.

Yours in future Scouting,

Michael Reid, Scouter