Bob Williams endorses Vancity directors and opposes Action Team's alleged inaction on the arts

A group linked for many years with the NDP could lose control of the board of Vancity, which has $14.5 billion in assets and more than 400,000 members.


Georgia Straight editor Charlie Smith on the Vancity Credit Union election.

The Action Team, formerly known as the Action Slate, was created in the 1980s. Former NDP cabinet minister Bob Williams was elected to the board in 1983, followed by former city councillor and future NDP cabinet minister Darlene Marzari and venture capitalist David Levi in 1984.

The following year, former Vancouver city councillor Tim Louis joined the slate, which opposed Vancity's membership in the Fraser Institute, a right-wing think tank based in Vancouver.

According to Herschel Hardin's 1996 book, Working Dollars: The VanCity Story (Douglas & McIntyre), the Action Slate attacked out-of-town lending, and kept ATM fees lower than those at the banks. Later at the behest of Levi, Vancity created the first "ethical" mutual fund in Canada.

Williams got back on the board in 2007 as an independent, and is backing three incumbent directors in this year’s election who are not members of the Action Team: Lisa Barrett, Kim Griffith, and Wendy Holm.

“I guess I’m not as rigid a partisan as I might have been at one time,” Williams told the Straight in a phone interview. “I think they have contributed substantially, and would continue to do so.”

“It has taken me some time to get traction on that one,” Williams said. “I got a motion through last October endorsing the principles of the Sacco report. That did get approved, but I also had some other motions to hire staff and have a budget, and I wasn’t able to get that through. I think that is one of the issues in this election.”

He added that he feels “there has been a certain amount of drifting” on the part of the Action Team in pushing Vancity forward.

Holm told the Straight in a phone interview that she thinks the Action Team–controlled board has “gone soft”.

Former Vancouver mayor Philip Owen has endorsed Holm, an agrologist and staunch defender of farmland.

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan has endorsed Barrett, a former Bowen Island mayor who was a strong opponent of the Canada Line.

Levi, Marzari, and several high-profile New Democrats have endorsed the three Action Team candidates. O’Brien told the Straight in a phone interview that she finds it “astonishing” that Holm would suggest that Action Team directors like Pratt, Virginia Weiler, and Catherine McCreary are not activist directors.

O’Brien noted that Vancity has begun offering “springboard mortgages”, which enable tenants with good records to borrow downpayments so they can buy homes. She said she is interested in expanding this program to entire developments.

“The Action Team does have a long record of being innovative and working together to produce socially responsible and financially responsible programs,” she said.

O’Brien said she wasn’t aware of the Sacco report, but added that she is a strong supporter of the arts. The Action Team candidates have opposed accepting a proposed pay increase that the board will put forward to the membership at the annual general meeting next month.

“It’s not an issue of whether or not they deserve the increase, but you have to put things in context,” O’Brien said. “More than 100 Vancity employees have been laid off in the last few months.”

Directors are currently paid $20,000 per year. Holm noted that an independent review was conducted by Central 1 Credit Union, which called for directors’ fees to increase by 2011 to $60,000 per year.

However, the board referred this to a committee of Vancity members, which recommended a 33.8-percent increase to $26,750 per year per director.

The Action Slate-controlled board will submit this to the members for approval at the annual general meeting on April 21  at the Italian Cultural Centre in  Vancouver.

Comments

35 Comments

trent1280

Mar 18, 2009 at 4:05pm

The Sacco Report is a thoughtful and wide-ranging assessment of the power of the arts to create and animate community. It examines in remarkable detail a 'Fertile Crescent' of artists now living and working from South False Creek through Strathcona to the DTES. It suggests ways we might become a world capital of the arts.

It offers examples from the work of other cities and institutions in building on present strength. It proposes ways that Vancity, Canada's largest credit union, might take the lead in italicizing, financing and leveraging these great opportunities.

Vancity, which showed one way with its $1 million grant to the arts, now has an opportunity to show another. Wealth means a good deal more than money in the bank. It also means creativity, innovation and genius at every level. A credit union can help bring these forces together. The Sacco Report shows a powerful means of doing so.

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hannah-pls

Mar 18, 2009 at 7:12pm

It looks to me like a BCGEU takeover of Vancity is in the works. Charlie Smith's excellent article could have added two more facts.

1. Current Action Slate Chair Patrice Pratt comes from the BCGEU, and has endorsed the three Action Slate Candidates.

2. New Action Slate candidate Jan O'Brien, married to City Councillor Geoff Meggs, works full-time for the BCGEU, but never mentions this anywhere.

Voters need to know where their loyalties lie. It was disappointing to learn that Ms O'Brien had never even "heard of" the Sacco Arts Report.

The arts are a low priority with the Action Slate.

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Matthew62

Mar 18, 2009 at 7:48pm

This is lunacy.

In a time when Vancity has to lay off up to 100 people because of the economy, Williams and his merry band want to add staff people to fund the arts?!

So the Action team hasn't taken a position on the matter. They also haven't said whether they support the incoming Vancouver Whitecaps team, or back funding for ice sculptures, but they're also is irrelevant.

Vancity is about community and sustainability. Pure and simple. That focus -- driven by the Action folks -- has made it one of the biggest success stories in the financial industry.

If Williams and his robots are going to spend my member money on hiring people to then fund his pet project, while members struggle with their personal finances and Vancity staff are being laid off, they've lost my vote.

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Kim Griffith

Mar 18, 2009 at 7:56pm

Canada, and the greater Vancouver area, are on the brink of becoming another world leader in arts and culture much like has been demonstrated in Italy and elsewhere.
North American culture has left gaping holes in its support of a cultural supporting network and it is grappling to adopt a new/old strategy for constructing a meaningful, sustainable, rewarding identity.
The Easterlin Curve demonstrates that happiness and income have a strong correlation up to $16,000 because the basic human needs must be satisfied first. But as income exceeds this, mankind begins to see income and happiness as two gradually diverging entities. People begin to search for happiness in different ways and societies become richer for this.
Vancity can fill the role of system activator in a renaissance of new support to groups and individuals that can generate a richer fulfillment and this will give a value added benefit for our members and our communities.
I am committed to finding that new future and believe that Vancity can play a pivotal role.

Kim Griffith, director, Vancity

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trent1280

Mar 18, 2009 at 8:14pm

Mathew62 is right about the lunacy, but names the wrong lunatics.

It is the Action Slate majority that has tried to force through a big jump in their own directors fees while 100 staffers have been laid off.

It looks to this outsider that the Action Slate has become too comfortable at the trough. Years ago the Slate was about change and progress. Today it's about maintaining the status quo. That's the real lunacy, dontcha think?

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Matthew62

Mar 18, 2009 at 8:59pm

One more thing...

If you really want to see the difference between the Williams clones and the Action folks (Legg, Maffin, and O'Brian), ask them where they stand on the proposed Directors' fee increase.

The Vancity Board that Bob Williams and his candidates were on passed a motion to ask members to approve a 33% pay increase to directors (!).

The Action Team candidates (Legg, Maffin, and O'Brian) have each said they'll vote against it. Which makes sense. We can't support Williams' plan to give him and the others a 33% pay hike when Vancity is laying its own people off!

Ask Williams and his robo-candidates if they support the fee increase or not. So far, they've either said they SUPPORT paying themselves more, or they won't say one way or the other (which, in itself, is bordering on dishonesty.)

That's a far bigger issue than hiring people to turn Vancity into an arts-funding organization, and so far I've only heard the Action slate candidates take a common-sense position.

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Matthew62

Mar 18, 2009 at 9:51pm

Trent1280: Your comment is misleading. The ENTIRE BOARD proposed the pay hike, including Bob Williams and his merry band. Just do the math. It simply wouldn't have passed without their support.

It was only after that motion was passed that we began to see the economy crumble and decisions about laying staff had to be taken. Your comment inaccurately implies that the board made this decision with the information we have today. It's simply not possible.

I, for one, will not be using my vote to support Williams' (and his "slate") pet project that is completely outside of the scope of Vancity's commitment to community growth and sustainability.

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Wayne Richards

Mar 18, 2009 at 10:33pm

Matthew62:

Let's get one thing straight. The arts don't COST money. They MAKE money. In Great Britain and Italy, and probably elsewhere, the creative arts account for over 10% of the Gross Domestic Product. That's double digits! That's huge!

Recently I was lecturing a long-suffering friend about how the arts strengthen a community and bring kudos to a city, when he (mercifully) interrupted. He simply pointed out that the creative arts do all that out of next to nothing -- sometimes no more than a few pieces of paper and a pencil. Sometimes just a beautiful voice and a sidewalk.

Hmmm. Tiny investment, huge payback. I find that strangely appealing.

Wayne Richards

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Virginia Weiler

Mar 18, 2009 at 10:57pm

With all due respect to Bob Williams' and Wendy Holm's (and now suddenly, Kim Griffith's) commitment to the arts, governing a financial institution with 400,000 members' deposits is about much more than pursuing one's personal agenda and priority interests. Its totally appropriate for them to advocate for arts organizations and to guide them to places where Vancity (already) grants to, sponsors, finances, and helps artists and arts organizations to build assets and pursue opportunities. But it doesn't serve the membership or the overall stability of the credit union to use a report (which Bob commissioned while on staff at Vancity) as the major theme of one's governance role. Sadly, I believe this is much more about Bob's political attempts to strengthen his influence over the Vancity board than it is a true commitment to the regions' arts communities.

On a positive note, in addition to stewarding its members' assets and credit union equity during a financial crisis and recession, Vancity, with board guidance and support is embarking on a deeper wealth creation vision in 2009 (come to our AGM on April 21st to hear more!) By better deploying our core strengths and tools (after all, Vancity is a financial institution) to build community wealth, there will be many opportunities for the arts sector to access resources and strategic support from Vancity in the years ahead.

If you're a Vancity member, please make time to cast your vote!

- Virginia Weiler, current Vancity director and supporter of three very qualified and responsible board candidates: Tod Maffin, Jan O'Brien and Hugh Legg (www.voteaction.ca)

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Virginia Weiler

Mar 18, 2009 at 11:08pm

With all due respect to Bob Williams' and Wendy Holm's (and now suddenly, Kim Griffith's) commitment to the arts, governing a financial institution with 400,000 members' deposits is about much more than pursuing one's personal agenda and priority interests. Its totally appropriate for them to advocate for arts organizations and to guide them to places where Vancity (already) grants to, sponsors, finances, and helps artists and arts organizations to build assets and pursue opportunities. But it doesn't serve the membership or the overall stability of the credit union to use a report (which Bob commissioned while on staff at Vancity) as the major theme of one's governance role. Sadly, I believe this is much more about Bob's political attempts to strengthen his influence over the Vancity board than it is a true commitment to the regions' arts communities.

On a positive note, in addition to stewarding its members' assets and credit union equity during a financial crisis and recession, Vancity, with board guidance and support is embarking on a deeper wealth creation vision in 2009 (come to our AGM on April 21st to hear more!) By better deploying our core strengths and tools (after all, Vancity is a financial institution) to build community wealth, there will be many opportunities for the arts sector to access resources and strategic support from Vancity in the years ahead.

If you're a Vancity member, please make time to cast your vote!
- Virginia Weiler, current Vancity director and supporter of three very qualified and responsible board candidates: Tod Maffin, Jan O'Brien and Hugh Legg (www.voteaction.ca)

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