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Evolution of an Oligarchy

by on July 7, 2010

The Evolution of an Oligarchy

The Girl Guide organization started in 1910 through the efforts of a few enthusiastic adult leaders who could see the benefits of outdoor adventure as a means to developing character and citizenship.  Each Unit (group of leaders and girls) operated essentially independently, united by their common Girl Guide/Scout Promise and Law.

As the movement grew, a system for organizing Units was implemented.  The World Association of Girl Guides and Girls Scouts linked members at an international level.  Within Canada, the National level dealt with matters of national interest, while the Provincial, Area, Division, and District levels dealt matters more immediate and local.  This system worked well for many years, with the higher levels providing advice to the lower levels, but leaving them to make their own decisions based on the needs of their local girls.  It was a democratic system, in that each lower level sent a voting representative to the next higher level.  Each level had a Council consisting of a Commissioner, Secretary, Treasurer, representatives from the next lower level, and “Advisers” who were specialists on different topics (camping, program, fundraising, etc.)  Communication, although slow, flowed up the chain, as well as down.

By 2000 this system was proving cumbersome and unwieldy.  After many surveys and town hall meetings, a new “Community” system was implemented through a process called “Transformation.”  The three lower levels (Area, Division, and District) were replaced by a single Community level.  While a flatter system should have resulted in better communication and efficiency, it has instead resulted in the loss of local identity and autonomy for the following reasons:

  • Communities were not permitted to manage funds for local activities
  • Communities were not given representation on Provincial Council
  • the “Advisor” positions were eliminated
  • local offices were closed (centralized at distant locations)
  • Provincial Council took control of all properties (camps, offices, meeting halls)
  • Provincial Council took control of the issuing of all cheques for all expenses at all levels

While it would still be possible to function under these conditions, what makes them intolerable is the fact that those at the top seem to be not listening to the needs and opinions of those in the field.  Decisions are made unilaterally and behind closed doors.  Local Camp Committees are being “told” what they “must” do, rather than being “asked” how Province can “help.”

The Evolution of Girl Guide Camping or How Local Guides Lost Control of their Camps

In the beginning, Guides camped in local farmers’ fields.  During the 1950’s to 1990’s, local Areas, Divisions, and/or Districts fundraised monies to purchase properties to give their girls a safe place to camp.  Originally, these properties were “held in trust” by a number of local citizens.  The beneficial owner was the whole Area (or Division or District) – which presumably meant ALL members in that geographical region.

Between 1957 and 1980, trusteeship for most Ontario camps was transferred to the “Girl Guide Land Corporation”, as Ontario law now required an incorporated body to hold the trust.

In 2001 GGC revised its by-laws to require National Council to approve all transactions involving property, and Provincial Councils to approve any Area, Division, or District Council transactions.   This was intended to ensure that all legal requirements regarding property were being met, not to influence actual decisions, such as the improvement, use, or sale of a particular property.

In 2004, the trust was transferred to “Girl Guides of Canada – Guides du Canada” (originally incorporated in 1917.)  However, at this time, the beneficial owner was redefined as the respective Council.  In other words, the general membership was no longer considered the beneficial owner.

In addition, a clause was added that, in the event of the dissolution of a Council, the National Board “had the responsibility to supervise or delegate the disposal of any and all properties and funds of that council.”

So here we have it:

National Council has delegated responsibility for camp properties to the Provincial Councils.  Ontario Council argues that since all Area/Division/District councils have been dissolved, they now have sole responsibility for camps.  Local members have no representation on Provincial Council, and thus no say in any camp matters.  Provincial Council consists of members who are appointed or elected by previous members.  Local camp committees must meet all the requirements set out by Provincial Council, yet have no say in the development of those requirements.  They may fundraise for their local camps, but only with Provincial approval.  They are required, through the trust agreement, to pay all expenses involved with the property, yet Council can veto any transaction (such as capital improvements).  Who wants to work under those conditions?  And they wonder why people are leaving this organization?!

Thus the organization has evolved from a loosely knit group of autonomous Units to an oligarchy ruled by the few.  The thing is, if you study other organizations, you can see the same trends happening.  Something to worry about?

Shirley O.

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