Original shorter version written for Just Sayin’ Caledon
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln spoke those words in 1858 at the Illinois State Capital in Springfield after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as the state’s U.S. Senator. Those words ring just as true today, and they apply as equally to governments great and small as they do to citizen movements, and to family clans, and to canoe trips.
Picture a canot du maître in historic times with nine paddlers heading down the swollen Humber River, most of whom are paddling hard in one direction, a few paddling in another, and one perennial lily-dipper on board. Not only is the forward progress slowed but the course becomes an erratic zig-zag despite the best efforts of the avant standing in the bow and the gouvernail in the stern, both trying to steer a true course.
Their route and the goods in their trade canoe have been selected by a talented team of mapmakers, clerks, accountants, and artisans, each a professional in their own right, and highly valued by the Company. They want to get those goods to markets quickly and efficiently.
Ask yourselves how successful those fur trade entrepreneurs would have been if those trade goods had not reached their outposts in the northwest of Canada or the trading posts on the Bay, or if the returning bales of beaver pelts had not reached the chapeau fashionistas of Europe. Which is why you need all the paddlers to be sharing the same vision – a successful journey for their employers, a journey most successful when all the paddlers are pulling in the same direction.
Now, apply this analogy to our Caledon Municipal Council where one of the members recently remarked that they were “very divided.” The paddlers are our Mayor, Area Councillors and Regional Councillors, the avant, the bow steering paddler, is our Town Clerk and the gouvernail, the stern steering paddler, is our CEO. The team backing them are our Town Staff, and the employer is the taxpayer, a minority of whom get off their couches to vote every four years. An even smaller minority of whom bitch and complain about every paddle stroke taken and every decision that the team makes.
Some of the “paddlers” are beginning to signal their intentions to return for another voyage. Others are getting ready to move on to other ventures. And the selection of the nine newly hired voyageurs will be decided by the good townsfolk. However, their decision this season must be to select a very competent crew for a four-year journey into the unknown.
On this voyage the canoe will travel into the uncharted waters of the 2018 to 2022 years, years of sweeping technological innovations, complex population growth, and social diversity challenges. It will be as challenging as it was for our First Peoples when the European farmers arrived in Caledon in the early 1800’s.
As challenging as when their fur trade rivers were harnessed by grist mills and saw mills. As challenging as when their forests teeming with country foods were razed for farms. As challenging as when their spirituality and culture were almost destroyed by missionary zeal, colonial arrogance, smallpox, and broken treaties. And as challenging for us now as we face nuclear button insults, waves of environmental refugees, and the unpredictability of accelerating climate change.
Given the scope of those challenges, the new crew of paddlers must have the qualities of endurance and strength of character. They must have a skill set that will help them guide our canoe through turbulent waters as we draw our own map into the future. They must possess the qualities of an adaptive mind: curiosity, creativity, initiative, multi-discipline thinking, and empathy. These are the skills that will take them beyond being simply paddling machines in a canoe. These are the skills that make them, and us, truly human.
Hindsight gives us the wisdom of seeing what we should have done a little differently too late. Like, “Well, in hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have built our downtown core in a river valley floodplain.” As 500-year storm insurance guidelines rewrite our town plans, we begin to realize the 10,000-year wisdom of the elders who built their villages on the high ground. Wisdom and foresight. Something we need to use in selecting our next paddlers.
We have seen the patterns in the paddling styles of our current crew. We need to take a very careful look at those who are signing on again because we can’t afford any lily-dippers or divisive contrarians who might sabotage the venture. Great people make a great team. It’s going to be a long and challenging journey – let’s pick the paddlers who will take us through safely.
A Council divided may fall, but a canoe united will carry our Town on a phenomenal journey into the future.
Skid Crease, Caledon
* images from Heritage Canada