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On October 2, 2007, Paddle Canada's Board of Directors made an unprecedented decision to restructure the governance of the association and remove some of the barriers that have held Paddle Canada back for far too long. Nobody made this decision, which was debated more than any other decision in the association's recent history, lightly.
At a special meeting the board passed revisions to the constitution that accomplished three aims: First, the size of the board was reduced from a possible 36 positions to a more manageable 15 positions. Second, rather than appointing directors from Provincial and territorial Associations, individual and instructor members will elect board members from the region they represent. Third, the officers of the association will be elected from the 15 board positions.
While at first glance these changes may seem minor, their significance is powerful.
These changes have accomplished the following:
- Quebec, PEI, NWT, Yukon and kayakers in BC will now have the opportunity to elect someone to represent their interests on the Paddle Canada Board of Directors. They did not have this opportunity under the old constitution.
- Paddle Canada becomes more like a house of commons, less like a senate. Individual and instructor members will determine, by election, who will speak on their behalf. In the past, appointees from provincial and territorial associations held the majority of votes.
- Directors now, by virtue of being elected directly by Paddle Canada members, will be more likely to ensure their decision making emphasizes what is in the best interest of the association's more than 1,200 individual and instructor members, and not necessarily their appointing body's interest.
- The more manageable size of the board will make it possible to meet monthly and manage Paddle Canada's affairs with greater diligence. In the past, the board has met, at most, once a year.
- It is now easier for individual or instructor members to contribute their time and resources to the aims of the association. They now have greater opportunity to share what their vision of paddling in this country could be.
Some have made this vote out to be the death of the relationship between Paddle Canada and the federated provincial and territorial associations. This is only true if a provincial/territorial association does not share the same strong national vision of Paddle Canada, as do the vast majority of members. Paddle Canada values its provincial and territorial associations and will continue to do so.
In most provinces and territories, there will be little noticeable change. Provincial and territorial representatives under the new structure will be required to consult and communicate with both provincial/territorial federated members and the association's individual and instructor members.
There is no intent to diminish the partnership between the national and provincial and territorial associations that support Paddle Canada. The intent is to enhance the partnership by freeing both levels of the association to work together on common goals without holding one half of that partnership back. Provincial and territorial associations have different responsibilities and can do certain things more effectively at the local level. There will always, however, be a need for both levels to work together.
What has changed is that Paddle Canada is now free to grow, move beyond status quo and protect itself from outside influences. Paddle Canada is now better able to do what it was mandated to do in partnership with provincial and territorial associations, which is to
- promote the safe use of canoes and kayaks;
- educate safe and enjoyable canoeing and kayaking;
- develop a love and respect for our natural resources; and
- nurture an understanding of the place of the canoe and kayak in our Canadian heritage.
My personal thanks as well to the provincial and territorial associations and their representatives, in particular Cameron White of Paddle Manitoba and Blair Doyle of Canoe Kayak Nova Scotia, and the members of the Executive Committee for demonstrating a willingness to move out of the comfort zone and sacrifice their ability to appoint to the board for the good of all members, regardless of what part of the country they choose to dip their paddle.
President, Paddle Canada
Richard Alexander is the founding president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Paddling Association and Kayak Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial river and sea kayaking club. He holds a Sea Kayaking Level 4 Skill, Level 4 Instructor and Level 3 Instructor Trainer status in the Sea Kayaking Program and Level 1 Lakewater Instructor status in the Canoe Program.