History Repeats Itself — Democracy Rebuffed

The Scouts Canada Act passed the House of Commons on Friday, February 2, 2007 and was granted Royal Assent on the February 21, 2007. On this auspicious day the ground hog came out of his hole, failed to see the light, and went back to hibernate. Here is how it all transpired, in less than 5 minutes.

Private Members' Business
Scouts Canada Act
(10:05 a.m.)

(Bill S-1001. On the Order: Private Members' Bills:)

December 7, 2006 - Second reading and reference to a legislative committee of Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada - Mr. Ken Boshcoff.

Mr. Ken Boshcoff (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been discussions among the parties and I believe that you will find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That Bill S-1001, An Act respecting Scouts Canada, be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee and reported to the House without amendment, concurred in at the report stage, read a third time and passed.

The Speaker:

Does the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

The Speaker: The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Some hon. members: Agreed.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time, referred to a committee and reported without amendment, concurred in and, by unanimous consent, read the third time and passed)

By this short exchange in the House of Commons the Ordinary-member of Scouts Canada has had the door slammed in his or her face. The undemocratic structure of Scouts Canada cannot now be rectified except by action of the Board of Governors. The January meeting of the Board of Governors has reported nothing. What is apparent is that Strategic Priority No.7, dealing with the establishment of democratic structures and financial stability, might just as well be Scouts Canada priority No.1001. For over a year we have heard nothing about progress toward democratization. Despite recent assurances from the CEO that this process will be moving ahead, the process has been confined to the Board of Governors. The only piece of news that we have received is an outline of a proposal that was discussed at a closed door session of Council Commissioners at the November 2006 AGM. What little we have been able to glean is all tentative and unofficial.

Our concern is that history is repeating itself. Baden-Powell, in 1909, failed to take proper account of the fundamental democratic character of Scouting. At that time Sir Francis Vane tried to persuade B-P and the Headquarters Staff that the leadership of Scouting reflected a broad cross-section of twentieth century society who were not content to be mere minions in the structure.1 B-P, to his later regret, sided with the the Headquarters Staff who wanted a nineteenth century top down command structure overseen by committee of a few aristocrats. Having been dismissed by B-P from his post as London Commissioner, Sir Francis Vane was invited to assist the fledgling British Boy Scouts. Approximately 25% of the leadership and Scouts followed Sir Francis into this new organization. The new organization was being sustained by the personal resources of Sir Francis. Consequently, when Sir Frances met with financial difficulties, the British Boy Scouts was unable to continue. Baden-Powell was, by this circumstance, given a reprieve. Many of the leaders returned to the Scout Association. Although a top down structure remained in place, the Districts were given substantial autonomy and their own elected councils. This local democracy contributed to the widespread public participation in the Scouting Movement, even by persons who were not formally members.

Our national organization, by revoking local autonomy, by reinforcing the top down structure and by creating a circular system of appointments with ratification of a pre-selected slate of Governors, has fallen into the same 19th century thinking that had bound Baden-Powell and led him into error. In 2002, on the eve of the introduction of our fashionable new system, we had approximately 40,000 adult members in leadership roles. As of August 31, 2006 there were approximately 23,000. This stark reality gives new meaning to the word decimated. Today we have no Sir Francis Vane with the resources to create a parallel organization. Today the leadership is voting with their feet and leaving Scouting behind.

The philosopher George Santayana noted, “For an idea ever to be fashionable is ominous, since it must afterwards be always old-fashioned.” (Winds of Doctrine (1913)). Scouting has lasted 100 years because of a quality recognized by Winston Churchill. He called Scouting a “...profound and simple conception. ... It speaks to every heart its message of duty and honour: 'Be Prepared' to stand up faithfully for Right and Truth, however the winds may blow.” This profound and simple conception was not some fashionable idea, it was a foundational ideal. Baden-Powell was a progressive and forward looking person. The basic premises upon which he worked were sound, otherwise Scouting would have been washed away years ago. If Scouts Canada were to look back with a purpose it would see that it has a tenacious grasp on some merely fashionable ideas that do not build on the profound and simple conception called 'Scouting'.

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted, it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience. (George Santayana, The Life of Reason, Volume 1, 1905)

Undoubtedly, prior to 2002, the structures of Scouts Canada were not working well. Instead of recognizing the democratic character of Scouting as a movement and adopting a paradigm that is in tune with that concept, a paradigm that builds on that concept, our national organization has ignored Scouting fundamentals. It ignores the lessons of history taught by Baden-Powell's clash with Sir Francis Vane. Our national organization, most regrettably, chose the wrong paradigm. It has attempted to solve our problems by imposing a nineteenth century corporate dictatorship under the guise of Carver Management model. This model was not molded to fit Scouting. It has not worked and will not work unless it can be modified to take account of the democratic nature of Scouting and the fact that the CEO is the head of an all volunteer organization where the paid staff are adjunct to the organization, not the other way around.

Our Chief Commissioner, Glenn Armstrong, has taken a look back in his article in the February 2007 issue of The Leader magazine. Looking back can either be a mere nostalgia trip or it can be an exercise with a purpose. We should be taking this opportunity to look back with a purpose. When changes must be made they should be made in the context of what has been established. We need to build upon what we have, not grasp some fashionable straw and then close our eyes to the negative consequences that are blatantly apparent. If Scouts Canada were to look back with a purpose it would see that it has a tenacious grasp on some merely fashionable ideas that do not build on the profound and simple conception of Scouting. Looking back with a purpose demonstrates to us that local initiative and autonomy, based on a democratic structure, is the most effective form of organization for a movement.

Priorities one through six of the Strategic Priorities set by Scouts Canada rest upon and can only be achieved if we have proper governance. If Scouts Canada is to grow and prosper our objective must be to see that Strategic Priority No.7 is implemented in a timely and effective manner. We need democratic structures with local authority, which includes a proper measure of local autonomy. We need it NOW.

1 Tim Jeal, Baden-Powell. Founder of the Boy Scouts (Yale University Press, 2001). 404-409.(link to the referenced pages)