SCOUT eh! responds to Scouts Canada Strategic Q&A
June 23, 2005
Scouts Canada has released a Strategic Plan: Q and A. Here is the text of Scouts Canada's document (indented text) and our response.
Strategic Plan: Q and A
Thanks to the many responses from members to the Board of Governor's draft Strategic Plan, a number of themes have emerged demonstrating that some clarification and explanation would be beneficial to our members. This document will hopefully provide answers to some important questions that are of concern.
Q - How many of Scouts Canada's employees have a vote at the Annual General Meeting?
A - One. Only the Executive Commissioner & CEO has a vote at the Annual General Meeting because of his role as a member of the Board of Governors. No other staff vote — only volunteers.
Why should any staff member have a vote in a Volunteer organization?
Our position is that it is simply not appropriate. Being a Volunteer
does not automatically confer a representative status on a person. Since
the Volunteers on the Board have no mandate from the membership, either
directly or indirectly, the overall governance of Scouts Canada is in
the hands of a clique of members selected (elected is not a proper
description) in a circular system. See the chart on our website.
Q - I hear that Bylaw 2 has provided me with less representation. Why don't all members of Scouts Canada have a vote at the Annual General Meeting?
A - Scouts Canada uses the Parliamentary model of governance to make its decisions (i.e. representatives from each of the 20 councils). Most Canadian citizens do not travel to Parliament to vote directly on issues: we elect the person from our community we believe will best serve our interests. We follow much the same principle in Canadian Scouting.
Having representatives from each council is the only truly democratic approach (representation by population). It is also the only practical approach in order to govern such a large organization. To ensure equal and fair representation for voting, each of our 20 councils elect three volunteers, including one youth under the age of 27. These volunteers are voting members at Scouts Canada's Annual General Meeting where members and officers of Scouts Canada's Board of Governors are elected.
In fact, since the passage of Bylaw No. 2, we now have more elected representatives than ever before: 20 councils with 3 representatives each, totalling 60 (previously, we had 11 councils with 3 representatives each, for a total of 33).
The forgoing question and answer is total double talk. If you hear the By-Law No.2 has provided you with less representation this is entirely correct. The system under By-law No.2 provides you with no representation. There is in fact no democracy associated with the so called representatives. There is a circular system of appointments where appointees nominally get to "vote" for a slate of nominees.
The proposition that Scouts Canada has a Parliamentary style model of governance is meaningless rhetoric and insulting to the membership. The Ordinary-member (save a few appointees on the Council Commissioners' Teams) have no say whatsoever in choosing those who govern Scouts Canada. It is apparent that Scouts Canada does not understand the concept of democracy and is prepared to make silly statements that are an affront to the intelligence of our membership.
In a parliamentary system there are constituencies or ridings. Each citizen (i.e. member) gets to vote directly for the candidate of his or her choice. There is currently no process in Scouts Canada whereby the Ordinary-member, as defined by By-law No.2, can vote for anyone either directly or indirectly, at the National or the Council level. Any assertion to the contrary is FALSE. In each Council there are three so called "representatives" of that Council who are the Voting-members on the National Council as defined by By-law No.2. Their job is to elect a fixed slate of nominees presented at the Annual General Meeting. They have no independent mandate of any kind.
How are those so called "representatives" chosen? Not by any democratic process that is for sure.
The CEO, in consultation with the Chief Commissioner appoints the Council Commissioners. Each Council Commissioner appoints his or her own team of between 15 and 20 Deputy and Area Commissioners and a Youth Commissioner. In the province of British Columbia, in a sop to the Lottery Commission, those 15 to 20 appointees get to "elect" the Council Commissioner who is then appointed by the CEO. This was done in order that they can claim that there is an "election" of the senior volunteer. This is about the thinnest veneer of democracy imaginable. In fact it is not even worthy of the name.
With regard to the "Voting-members", the universal practice is that the Council Commissioner and the Youth Commissioner are automatically on the slate to be elected as Voting members. There are, in some Councils, nominations for the so called "third member". If there is more than one nomination then the 15 to 20 Deputy and Area Commissioners who make up the Council Commissioner's Team get to vote for that third member. To call this an exercise in democracy is an abuse of the language. The individual Ordinary-member has no say in this so called "election" whether by direct vote or through representatives chosen by the Ordinary-member's Group.
To say that there is representation by population is complete and utter nonsense. PEI, with a current membership of 350 has the same number of Voting-members as Chinook Council that currently has 9,700 members. In our Canadian Parliament, for political reasons related to the Confederation negotiations, no province has fewer Commons Members than Senators. This is a political compromise. There is no such compromise in Scouts Canada. There is no merit to an argument based on representation by population. The fact is that the larger councils do not have any proportionate representation whatsoever.
It is equally nonsense to say that we have more representation now than in the past. The so called "representatives" do not actually represent anyone. They are not elected by the overall membership of their Councils', only by the members on the Council Commissioner's Team. No member of the Commissioner's Team is elected directly by the membership or even indirectly by representatives of the member's group. The old system was a ladder system. The Groups elected their own officers and a youth member. Each group sent those persons or some of them as representatives to District Council. Those representatives elected the District Council where the President, Commissioner and Youth Member of each District represented the District, and so on up the ladder to Regional Council and Provincial Council and ultimately to National Council. By the time we got to the National Council the representation had usually been diluted fivefold. The old system was unresponsive because of the many layers and the fact that accountability was five times removed. We do not want that system back. The problem with By-law No.2 is that it has totally eliminated accountability to the membership because the membership does not actually elect anyone to any Council anywhere. Today there is neither direct nor indirect representation of any kind. The so called representatives of the councils have no mandate from anyone save 15 to 20 appointees. This is not democracy in any way, shape, or form.
Having a practical approach is important. SCOUT eh! takes the position that the Board be elected either directly or indirectly. We put forward a proposal for direct election. This was rejected and no alternative has been proposed by Scouts Canada. All we hear is the above noted nonsense that we have a Parliamentary style Democracy.
The Ordinary-member, save those few anointed and appointed as Area or Deputy Commissioner, has no vote, no franchise at any level. The consequence of this is that the appointees have no mandate from the membership. Without that mandate all talk of democracy in Scouts Canada is a futile exercise in sophistry.
Q - There were six previous drafts of the Strategic Plan - why haven't we seen them?
A - Quite simply, drafts 1- 6 were internal drafts in preparation for release to the field.
Q - If Scouts Canada is a co-educational organization; does this mean we are in direct competition with our sister organization, the Girl Guides of Canada?
A - It is true that both organizations welcome females at all levels; however the respective memberships of Scouts Canada and the Girl Guides of Canada are comprised of a relatively small percentage of the Canadian population. This means that there is a large pool of potential members that is more than large enough to share.
A facile non seqitur if ever there was one.
Q - Why should I participate in selling Scout Popcorn? Doesn't most of the money end up at the National Office?
A - Scout Popcorn benefits the organization as a whole. All levels share the profits that are generated with the largest portion remaining at the group level. In fact, last year, $4,160,258 was raised through Popcorn sales, of which only $254,440. went to the National Office.
Compared to other fundraisers that groups participate in across the country, Scout Popcorn generates the highest proportion of profits that actually stays at the group and council level, which is a tremendous help as groups plan their successful year in Scouting.
This is a simplistic approach to the issue of fundraising. Apple day in certain areas returns 100% of the net profits to the groups. We agree that the Popcorn fundraiser is of substantial benefit to the groups and to the National Organization. The imposition of fundraisers and the attempt to restrict fundraising to "Nationally approved" fundraisers is what is at issue. Deliberately overlapping the Popcorn fundraiser on the Apple Day shows a patent disregard for local fundraising efforts. The implementation of the Hot Chocolate fundraiser was an exercise in corporate power that ended in unmitigated disaster. There was no buy-in because the product was untested and the demands for sales were unrealistic. The membership has widely adopted Popcorn sales because it came in step by step and is a proven money maker. Those who have undertaken the program are generally pleased with the result. In the view of SCOUT eh! there is no real issue about the popcorn fundraiser except in so far as it is being made mandatory. Otherwise bringing it up is only a side issue and a red herring or a using a Q&A for promotional purposes instead of dealing with real questions.
Q - How much of the registration fee goes to the National Office?
A - Only a portion. For 2005, each group's membership fee is broken down as follows: $40 goes to the national office; of this, $25 goes for such things as program development, Leader Magazine and marketing, and $15 goes to insurance. In addition to this, a portion of the membership fee is set by the local council and stays with the council for providing service and support, volunteer screening, and local recruitment. In many cases, the group also adds an additional fee to cover leaders' registrations, to assist needy youth and for special trips and outings.
The simple fact is that on the Council level neither the Groups nor the individual members have any vote on the budget that sets the Council fee. The only portion on which the members have any say or any control is the amount of any Group fee that is added to the above mentioned. The National Budget is not published nor is it publicly justified in any way. The Board of Governors is selected by a few persons who are either appointees or who have nominally been "elected" by the 100 or so Voting-members, none of whom have any mandate from the membership at large. Fundamentally, it amounts to taxation without representation. There is no legitimate process that gives any moral authority to the fee structure. When there were Districts the elected Council had to take the heat every year. No one at the National or Council level has any accountability to the membership. The Ordinary-member does not even have a right to ask a question at the Annual General Meetings. This Q&A is only an exercise in self justification.
Q - What is Scouts Canada doing to address the deficit it has been running for the past number of years?
A - Scouts Canada has recently undergone a significant staff restructuring and reorganization, resulting in a 15% decrease in salaries and administrative costs (including a reduction in Council Executive Directors from 21 to 10 since September of 2004). It has also centralized its Scout Shops to better manage costs and increase revenues. We are also ensuring fundraising support and resources which are key to involving more of our members in the Scout Popcorn campaign each year.
It would not be possible to sell enough popcorn to meet the needs of
the National Organization. See the SCOUT eh! commentary on the
National Finances if you would like to see the whole picture.
Volunteer run Scout shops have been closed on the alleged basis that they were not profitable. The volunteer run Scout Shop in Niagara Falls which served many visitors from all over the world who come to that area was shut down. This shop was the face of Scouts Canada to a nation wide and world wide clientele. The rationalization of the Scout Shops has been carried on in an irrational fashion. The price of the badges was cut almost in half. Maybe this made some people feel good but in the larger picture there is no price elasticity. Leaders are not going to buy more badges for the youth just because they are cheaper. No leader does a two badges for the work of one. The groups charge dues or do fundraising to support the program needs. It is just nonsense to reduce the price of badges which reduces revenue by a quarter of a million dollars and then flog popcorn sales to make it up again. These silly decisions are made because no one at the top is accountable to the membership. We are just supposed to sit back and be some flunkies and adjunct fundraising supervisors for the National Popcorn Campaign.
Q - Is it really still important to require that our members believe in God?
A - Belief in God is not just a criteria for membership, it a core part of our programming, and one of three pillars upon which Scouting is built. Scouts Canada is a values-based organization that teaches youth about the outdoors, community service, and spirituality. It is important to note that Scouting is a multi-denominational organization, welcoming people of all religious faiths.
Spirituality can be recognized in many ways - such as love for the environment and our beautiful world.
Democracy is also a fundamental value of Scouting and a core of the program. Who says so? The World Organization of the Scout Movement says so. What do they say? We quote:
A voluntary movement depends upon participation of all its members, ... in the decision-making process. As part-owners, or "stakeholders" in the Movement, they must be actively involved in managing its affairs in a democratic manner. (The Essential Characteristics of Scouting, page 26.)
They also said it most plainly in a resolution adopted at the 1993 World Scout Conference in Bangkok: "Scouting is a Movement based on democratic principles."
Q - If we are encouraged to recruit members year-round, why can't we have a half-year rate that would provide further incentive for prospective members? They aren't getting the benefit of a full year of Scouting anyway.
A - Many councils do in fact offer half-year fees; however this is up to the local council's discretion.
The membership has no democratic basis for approving such policies. The only persons who can vote on the Council Budget are the members of the Council Commissioner's Team. They are all appointees who have no mandate from the membership. Their decisions do not have the stamp of authority or credibility.
Q - I am unsure about the benefit of the new coaching and mentoring program. Why couldn't we have just kept the Wood Badge courses?
A - Courses still exist. However, we also recognize that many new leaders do not require a full course or do not have the additional time to take the course. Group Commissioners and other recruiters are encouraged to recruit people with many of the skills and competencies that we are looking for; then provide them with opportunities to acquire the remaining skills as identified in the Learning Objectives. Many new leaders only require a small portion of the competencies listed and can achieve these through on-the-job training, modules or by working with coaches and mentors. New leaders and coaches/mentors alike find this to be far a more efficient use of their time as they can learn, practice and demonstrate the skills at their regular meeting. Our goal is to help new leaders acquire the appropriate skills as soon as possible and in a manner that best fits their lifestyle.
We agree that a properly run mentoring program is an alternative in our busy society. The benefits of networking and creating bonds of Scouting friendship are, however, lost in a one-on-one mentoring situation. Mentoring should be part of the overall process whether the leader takes training by a course or by supervised on the job evaluation of competencies.
Q - How is Scouts Canada promoting itself at a national level?
A - Scouts Canada uses public and media relations as a way of getting our message out to Canadians. National advertising programs are unfortunately very expensive and are not typically affordable on a regular basis. Instead, the National Office provides advertising collateral (pre-recorded radio ads, television ads, and newspaper ad templates) to councils to use as either paid advertising or to place as public service announcements. Resources and media kits are also provided online so that local Scouting groups/councils can conduct public relations and media relations around key events such as fall registration, Scoutrees, etc. A communications volunteer network is also in the making where each council will submit names of volunteers who wish to specifically concentrate on these types of communications initiatives. The Director of Communications is always available for consult and suggestions on local media relations.
Who is the torch bearer for Scouting? Scouts Canada does not have an identifiable or publicly recognizable leader. The Chief Commissioner should have the appropriate budget to allow him or her to become the face of Scouting. As it stands we have an amorphous public appearance. The best advertising is a good program carried on by committed leaders. The total lack of local autonomy has eroded that commitment. Scouting is a local enterprise and should be organized in a way that emphasizes control of the program and associated program assets by the grass roots members.
Q - Does Scouts Canada acknowledge the need for better internal communications?
A - Yes. A special sub-committee of the Board of Governors is reviewing this very issue and will implement a new internal communications plan in the near future. Key themes will include two-way communications, translation of resources into various languages, using technology to directly communicate with members, and implementing new protocols that will ensure that members are provided with information in a timely, effective manner. The Board of Governors has identified internal communications as one of its top priorities and recognizes it as being key to the future of the Movement.
Two way communications only happen when there is accountability. Without democratic structures the senior volunteers are not accountable to the membership. With the top down system of appointments that is currently mandated by By-law No.2 it is impossible to create two-way communications. Until Scouts Canada Volunteer Management recognizes the fundamental value of having a democratic organization all efforts to create two-way communications are doomed to failure.
Q - Scouts Canada has implemented a great deal of change over the past number of years, especially related to risk management. This has made the task of being a Section Scouter more difficult and time-consuming. Are all of these changes really necessary?
A - There's no question the administrative expectations for leaders have changed over the last few years. Managing our programs to ensure that youth have opportunities to participate in safe, yet fun and challenging programs requires a significant amount of administrative work.
Finding and maintaining a balance in achieving this continues to be a difficult task. It is important to note that Canadian society has experienced some significant changes - and with that there have been additional expectations placed on organizations like Scouts Canada.
Parents set high standards for organizations they are trusting to provide programs for their children. Scouts Canada recognizes its responsibility in these areas and has developed a comprehensive Volunteer Recruiting and Development program for recruiting and screening new leaders. Quite rightly, parents have also shown increasing interest in how we conduct our programs, our program standards and our accepted practices for camping and outdoor activities.
In response to these changes and expectations Scouts Canada has developed Program Standards and Standard Operating Procedures for Conducting Camping and Outdoor Activities. Along with these are a number of forms and applications to provide leaders with important medical information about the youth in their section, as well as to keep parents informed about programs that their child will be involved in. We recognize that these practices have increased the workload on our leaders; however they are an important part of our Duty of Care and Safety and Risk Management practices.
Recognizing that society continues to change, Scouts Canada will continue to monitor the trends and issues of the day and will continue to review our procedures, searching for more effective ways to achieve the balance. For example, two years ago we relieved a portion of this load by changing the requirements for the Physical Fitness Form. At that time leaders had to have the parents complete the form for each outing/activity to ensure that they always had the most current information. This was a significant workload. We recognized that in most cases the information we were requesting did not change; we now require parents to simply complete the form at the beginning of each year and update the leaders with any changes as they occur.
Too many of the policies are based on "worst case" scenarios. This is what led to the "zero tolerance" policy on the PRCs. The policies were interpreted by Council Executive Directors, if interpreted at all, in such a stringent and unrealistic fashion that persons with acquittals and withdrawn offences on the PRC were turned aside. The direction adopted by Scouts Canada has been one of Total Risk Avoidance rather than one of Risk Management. A more reasonable approach is all that the members want. The lack of discretion to look at individual circumstances and the lack of an ombudsman to intervene where management is being unreasonable is the real source of conflict. The members are well aware that Risk Management must be part of our Scouting processes. No reasonable person disputes this need. Where policies are not moderated by reason they only serve to highlight unreasonableness. We need to answer to the reasonable parent with the reasonable expectations and stand up to the parent who has unreasonable expectations. If they have unreasonable expectations they should be shown the door.
Q - Why does Scouts Canada need a diversity strategy?
A - Scouting is a very adaptable, inclusive program that has a great deal to offer to a wide range of cultural groups. We see Canada's increasingly diverse population as a wonderful opportunity to achieve our Mission while also increasing our membership. That is why we are working to introduce Scouting to new cultural communities and to provide resource materials in different languages to fulfill the needs of specific cultural groups. Doing our best to help these diverse groups will only enrich the Scouting program and help to bring about a deeper understanding between Canada's peoples.
Diversity is an issue that should have been on our agenda years ago. The lack of democracy in Scouting has only served to diminish one of our fundamental values of Canadian Society. Why would a parent who comes from a country with a repressive regime want to have his or her child be part of a youth organization that does not actively practice democratic values? We should start practising what we preach: then we would be in a sound position to reach out.
Q - When will Scouts Canada recognize and give credit for knowledge and skills people bring with them?
A - Our Volunteer Recruitment and Development Program talks about exactly that. Where possible, we try to recruit people who already have the appropriate skills, and work with them to apply those skills in the Scouting context. The success of our programs depends on our ability to recruit and develop our volunteers as quickly as possible. Recruiting people with demonstrated skills shortens their learning curve and avoids the frustration that people experience when they are forced to sit through unnecessary training.
A properly run system that recognizes competencies is important. Getting that process working in an effective manner is what we really need.
Q - The fees continue to increase. How will we continue to ensure that Scouting remains affordable?
A - Increasing costs have become, like change, a fact of life. Sometimes it feels like the price of everything is increasing! Like any other business, Scouts Canada faces escalating costs every year as well. We do our best to be wise in the use of our resources as we state in our Scout Law but this often means making drastic cuts in our operations. We have significantly reduced the number of staff we employ, we have consolidated council operations, closed Scout Shops no longer breaking even, and councils have sold properties they could no longer afford to operate. Given these reductions, we are still committed to providing a high level of service and support to our members.
While Scouts Canada does receive limited revenue from the federal government and corporate sponsors, those funds are typically directed towards a specific project (i.e. Climate Change, Thank You project for veterans) and cannot be applied as general revenue. This means that Scouts Canada's primary sources of revenue are limited to membership fees, retail operations and Popcorn sales. This is why it is so important for groups to support Scout Popcorn. Proceeds generated from Popcorn sales support all levels of the organization, groups, councils and (to a relatively small extent) the National Operation. This is truly a win-win deal. By participating in Popcorn sales, groups are generating revenue that otherwise would have resulted in increased fees; plus the group can choose to apply a portion of the revenue generated to subsidizing fees at the group level.
Is this a "Question and Answer" or is a plea for support from our National organization? If there were a truly democratic structure there would be personal commitment and an enthusiastic buy-in to the needs of the organization. Having been totally disenfranchised, many in our Scouts Canada membership, our leaders who are in that category of Ordinary-member, feel like and indeed are treated like mere adjunct workers in the corporate program. Pleas from a National Organization having no mandate nor any moral authority emanating from a democratic structure, are bound to fall on deaf ears. By-law No.2 has created a "them and us" organization that has driven a "them and us" attitude. Since there is no democratic structure our Volunteer management has no legitimate moral basis for calling upon the membership to support them. To put it simply, many leaders are ignoring the dictates, policies and pleas of Volunteer management. Just being a volunteer does not automatically confer moral authority on anyone. Because of the top down system of appointments the volunteer management is seen by the membership as the enforcement arm and purveyors of propaganda for the Organization.