2018 Message from the Chair of the Board of Directors
From the desk of Kevin Smith:
This will be my last Chair report for CFI Canada so it will be a little more personal and I hope not too self-indulgent. In life, priorities and responsibilities change and as I mentioned to the Board last year, my time to fulfill all the duties expected of a Board member and Chair was becoming somewhat limited. CFI is in a position where I feel confident that the organization I volunteered so much of my time with is in good hands and will continue to mature, not only grow but also succeed as a necessary voice in the Canadian landscape.
I have been a member of CFI Canada since the first year of forming. Finally, I thought, a needed voice for atheism! It’s interesting that there are parallels here – there’s an evolution from the newly out, loud and proud atheist be it a person or new organization, to a more secular humanist minded, human rights and pseudoscience advocate. Similarly, I see that our organization has evolved where we slowly, but certainly, are becoming more professional and recognized by government and media as a respected secular-humanist, science minded organization.
My role as Chair began during a rather unexpected adventurous, some might say tumultuous, period in our history. However, this is typical of the growing pains of any small organization. It is perhaps magnified by an organization such as ours – full of critical thinkers…
Throughout these interesting times and beyond those, as Chair, despite the peripheral challenges and distractions, I have always tried to focus on my goal for CFI:
- frankly obvious but never certain – to continue receiving funds to help advance our causes and
- to bring us to a point where we would become more professional and respected.
I was fortunate to have worked with some fantastic Board members, many whom shared my vision for our organization and I thank them all. At times it was tough navigating, incredibly stressful, but we came through it without too many wounds. We hired Eric Adriaans, who, with his background in charity work, brought us to a place where we are a more professional and united organization. Granted, this year some may think we were in purgatory, but there was a lot of activity at the Board level and branches continued to have activities and events. The search for our Director of Development took some time but we did it properly, with a professional pro-bono management consultant and found an excellent Director of Development in Sandra Dunham. We are in a good place, the next chapter in our story is now.
One observation of many over my 7+ years with CFI. When I met the UN Ambassador for Refugees in Ottawa we talked for some time about his issue with secular groups. He said there appeared to be no united voice when advocating with NGO agencies. We seem to be splinters of small groups of secular humanists which reduce our effectiveness when working on high level initiatives. It is a shame and to our collective detriment that our movement has too much infighting and regional competition within. We need to focus on the big picture and not get caught in small minded divisive politics. This behaviour of seemingly intelligent people results in a loss of influence and our potential to make small and large gains.
My goal for my final year as Chair was to help find our Director of Development. I worked with fellow Board member Seanna Watson on this. I want to thank Seanna for all her hard work this past year. Without her efforts I do not know where we would be as an organization.
I want to finish off by talking about volunteerism. There are incredible opportunities in volunteering with CFI. There were initiatives that I was passionate about and CFI gave me the ability to work on them. One of them was the Ontario GSA initiative where I was Chair of the Ontario GSA Coalition, representing CFI Canada. I met with the Premier and Minister of Education for Ontario and got Rick Mercer to attend a student BBQ celebration when it was legislated that every school in Ontario, including taxpayer funded Catholic schools, must have a Gay Straight Alliance.
Another time I talked with then Global Affairs Minister Stephen Dion about Raif Badawi. I wrote for the Ottawa Citizen, weekly for 4 years, representing secular humanists and atheists on a panel of faith “experts”. I helped organize rallies for LGBTQ people, including twice speaking in front of the Ontario Legislature. I was the go-to friendly atheist (as Rev. Brent Hawkes called me) invited to speak at the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto.
I don’t say this to boast, but to illustrate that by volunteering with CFI almost anything is possible. And for me – a quiet, reserved guy that pushed myself to do these things not as a Board member or Chair – but as a volunteer of a small organization with the passion and support of colleagues. It’s made me a better person and I have CFI to thank for that. So CFI Canada presents a lot of opportunities – you just have to go for it. It’s a win for you personally as well as a win for our organization and those fellow humans we seek to help. It feels good to make those small and big wins with your colleagues. I leave with some sadness that this chapter of my life is complete but all in all it has been a unique experience and I look forward to CFI moving into the future, addressing new challenges that society presents to us.
Actually you are not getting rid of me completely as I will be on the Board as past Chair – here to offer occasional sage advice (if I have any to offer). Thanks to everyone for this opportunity to serve CFI Canada, its members, volunteers and our donors.