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Letter to National – Shirley

by on May 3, 2010

Dec. 12, 2009

Members of the National Board of Directors
Girl Guides of Canada
50 Merton Street
Toronto, ON  M4S 1A3

Dear fellow Guiders,

I am writing to you concerning the recent decision by Ontario Council to close 16 of its camps across Ontario.  I understand that the National Board of Directors has the final say in this matter, so I urge you to consider the following:

This decision was made by decree from Ontario Council, without any local input.  Camp committees may have been asked for opinions, but they certainly had no vote.  General membership has been kept in the dark on the issue.  As far as we knew, we were promised at the time of Transformation that “camp properties would not be touched.”  So much for promises.

The speed with which they are moving forward from decision to selling properties is alarming.  It leaves no room for alternative proposals, analysis, or second sober thought.  Yet once these properties are gone, there is no going back.  Suitable land, especially in Southwestern Ontario, is very difficult to find and very precious.  We as members at least deserve an opportunity to respond to the decision and present our point of view.  This should have been done through meetings with local Guiders; we should not have had to resort to a letter-writing campaign!

In her announcement, Marnie Cumming cites a $1,376,652 operating deficit for Ontario camps in 2008.  For that year, the operating deficit for Camp Dahinda was $ 6,053, a mere 0.44%, i.e. less than half of one percent, of the total.  That is just a drop in the bucket, which could have been covered by a small increase in user fees.  You should be closing the camps responsible for the deficit, not the small, self-sufficient ones that serve their own niche market.  Camp Dahinda is expected to be in the black for 2009.

Apparently an outside consulting company was hired to research our needs and wants (in case we don’t know our own minds, I suppose.)  The results of this research have not been made available to the general membership.  We have not had the opportunity to question the assumptions or methodology of this work.  I do recall one survey in which we were asked how far we would be willing to travel to get to camp.  The top category was “50 or more km.”  How can the conclusion that a 2 hour drive is reasonable be drawn from that?  We would like to know how much was spent on these studies.  I suspect that the amount could have covered Camp Dahinda’s operating deficit for many years to come.

We would also like to see the financial records upon which Ontario Council made these decisions.  Otherwise, we have no way of knowing whether they are acting in good faith.  Are not charitable organizations required by law to make their financial records open to any member of the public when asked?

From your biographies on the National website, I believe that you are community-minded people.  If this is the case, why are you failing the small communities of rural Ontario by limiting their access to camps?  An analysis by location shows that 100% (4 of 4) of camps in Northern Ontario, 60% (3 of 5) in Eastern Ontario, and 54% (7 of 13) in Southwestern Ontario, outside a one-hour drive of the Greater Toronto Area, are being closed.  Contrast that with only 20% (2 of 10) within that radius.  One could argue that the GTA has the greatest number of members, and thus deserves the most camps.  But that is only a logical argument if Guiding is funding the camps on a per capita basis – which, we understand from Marnie’s announcement, is not the case.

Residents of Sarnia-Lambton have been very forthcoming when asked for donations to Guiding.  They helped with the original purchase of Camp Dahinda in 1955 and with the purchase of Sarnia’s Guide/Scout Centre in 1993.  They contributed to the $30,000 set aside to provide city water to Camp Dahinda (which would have been installed 5 years ago, except for delays by the County.)  Do you really expect them to continue to support Guiding when they see all these funds being drained from our community?  As a Unit Guider, I will not be placing an order for spring Girl Guide cookies this year, if our camp is put up for sale.  There will be no market for them here, and I cannot, with a clear conscience, ask our community to buy them.

Camp Dahinda lies in the Ausable River basin in southwestern Ontario.  It is contains four distinct ecosystems and is home to a huge variety of Carolinian species.  Our pond empties into the creek that flows over Rock Glen Falls into the Ausable River.  The Ausable River watershed provides habitat for several terrestrial species at risk.  It is a designated provincial Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI).  The Ausable Bayfield Conservation Authority would be interested in preserving our property.  GGC could improve its public image by developing a partnership with the ABCA, rather than merely “selling to the highest bidder.”  After all, the Guiding Law challenges us to “protect our common environment,” and as a charitable organization, we are not supposed to be in the business of making a profit.

Please do not reply with a pat on the back and “thanks for the memories.”  The Guiders of Ontario deserve more than that.  We deserve full disclosure of how these decisions were made, including access to the consultants’ reports, membership statistics, and financial statements.  We deserve a vote as to how our properties are managed and our cookie funds spent.  We are a creative bunch of self-sufficient people.  That’s why we love Guiding.  We also prefer democracy to decree.

Yours in Guiding,

Shirley Osterman

-1st Sarnia Lambton Trex Unit
-former Trillium Area Camp Adviser
-former Lakeshore Division Camp Adviser

  1. Joanne Schmidt permalink

    A great letter Shirley – did you ever receive a response from the National Board of Directors?
    You have noted that the members of the National Board are introduced to Guiding members via their biographies on the National site. I have gone on the Ontario site to read the biographies of the Ontario Council – oops – no – I mean I tried to read them, but only the names were posted – there are no biographies. I can’t find out how their backgrounds are contributing to the decisions of the Council. That’s another layer of missing transparency.

    • Hello There
      I was also looking on CBC Speak Up and saw contributors on this site who had looked up on the Government of Canada website that there are a handfull of paid staff making over $100000 per year. They stated, “on the eve of the 100th anniversary of Girl Guides of Canada it is time for women in Canada for whom Guiding has been a life time commitment to demand an open and transparent audit and a public inquiry into the management practices of the GGC. I am a member of 29 years. I would say that constitutes a “lifetime”. The girls and guiders are not in this organization to line someone’s retirement fund. I would say that we need to communicate what we need – NOW! – and return this organization back to who it was meant for – the girls and guiders!

  2. Kim Lyons permalink

    Shirley has the full support of many leaders in our area. She echos all of our concerns regarding Guiding and the lack of consideration given to us from Province and National. As a Guide Leader I see that we are not only losing valuable assets in our camp properties, but we will also lose the knowledge and hard work provided by the experienced Guiders in Sarnia-Lambton should they leave Guiding over the next few years. These ladies are invaluable to the younger women that volunteer as Unit Leaders. With transformation, we feel our support was taken away now we fear losing Shirley and many other experienced Guiders. Their wisdom and support is only a phone call or email away. Without them we will all be lost! It’s time for the Management of Guiding to wake up! Without all of the volunteers that work directly with the girls, Girl Guides will not longer exist.

  3. denise permalink

    Hi Paula
    Why would we let these people “abuse” us? We need to stand up and be counted for our girls and future girls. They are counting on us……It’s not about us – it is about the girls. Cheers!

  4. Paula Godfrey permalink

    Great letter Shirley I think a lot of Guiders feel the same way you do.
    I think we would all prefer a democracy. 24 years I have been a leader and I’m thinking that may be this should be my last one.

  5. Sharon Patrois (30 North Bay Brownies) permalink

    WAY TO GO SHIRLEY!!!! Fantastic letter. Sharon.

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