A Proposal for a Democratic Scouts Canada

We can all participate in a mail ballot election

By Scouter Liam Morland, September 2002

Scouting is a Movement based on democratic principles.

At the 1993 World Scout Conference in Bangkok, the World Organization of the Scout Movement passed the resolution quoted above (WOSM 1997:v). The resolution made clear what has always been true: Scouting's Fundamental Principles require that all Scout associations be democratic organizations. They must be organizations of their membership, not merely organizations for their membership.

Scouts Canada's governance has long been far removed from the membership at large. The National Council and, later, the Board of Governors have been chosen by a tiny elite. The governance changes in the proposed "Bylaw Number 2" broaden the process slightly but still leaves all electoral power in the hands a small group of unelected individuals.

Democratic organizations work better than non-democratic ones. Democratic decision-making ensures that the needs and experiences of all are included in the decision-making process. In addition, people are more likely to respect and abide by democratic decisions, even if they disagree with them. The result is an organization united around better policies and programs.

But how does one make a national organization fully democratic without breaking the bank? For the answer, we turn to another national, not-for-profit organization, Mountain Equipment Co-op.

Mountain Equipment Co-op is a retailer of outdoor equipment with a mail order department and stores across Canada. MEC is a retail co-operative which exists to serve its 1.5 million members. One must be a member to make a purchase. MEC is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors. All MEC members over the age of 16 are eligible to vote in the election of the Board. There are nine positions on the Board. Each year, three people are elected for a three-year term. This overlap ensures continuity.

The mechanics of the election are simple. Any member can nominate another member for election to the Board. Nominations must be supported by five members. Each spring, MEC members are sent an election package containing a booklet with candidates' statements and voting instructions. The written statements are the only campaigning that happens, preventing politicization. After reviewing the candidates' statements, members vote on the Internet, by phone, or by mail. The election is overseen by an accounting firm which ensures the fairness of the vote.

A election system similar to MEC's should be used to elect the Board of Scouts Canada. Every Scouts Canada member over a certain age (I suggest 14) would be eligible to vote. And the cost of democracy? Giving the vote to all member over the age of 14 would cost Scouts Canada about $2 per member.

Democratic governance is required by Scouting's values, by Canadian values, and is the only way of ensuring that the organization meets the needs of its members. A mail ballot election is neither difficult nor expensive. Scouts Canada should adopt this system now.


World Organization of the Scout Movement.
1997. Youth Programme: Policy of Involvement of Young Members in Decision-Making. Geneva, Switzerland: World Scout Bureau.