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.
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.