Vancity board of directors elections criticized for being undemocratic

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      As a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford during the 1960s, Wilson Parasiuk studied the rise of totalitarian governments across the world.

      It’s partly because of his academic background that the former Manitoba NDP MLA and cabinet minister feels so outraged at how elections are being conducted for the board of directors of the $14.5-billion Vancouver City Savings Credit Union.

      For the now long-time Vancouver resident, who also headed a B.C. Crown corporation under an NDP government during the 1990s, the Vancity board is acting undemocratically. He’s appalled by its practice of coming up with a list of recommended candidates for the 417,211 member-owners of the credit union to vote for.

      “That’s a rigged election as far as I can tell,” Parasiuk told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “When I was at university in England, I studied how the communists, when they took over countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary after the war, how they moved from being young democracies into totalitarian regimes. And they established lists like this. They didn’t abolish elections. They just rigged them.”

      Vancity members are voting until April 27 for candidates who will fill three seats on the nine-member board.

      It’s the second year that the board, through a nominations and election committee, has identified candidates it favours.

      Vancity board chair Virginia Weiler explained that a survey showed members support this recommendation system, which replaced the previous setup of having slates competing in elections.

      “Seventy-six percent were satisfied with the changes,” Weiler told the Straight in a phone interview. “It was an overwhelming response. It was the highest response to a member survey that we had in 10 years. And in fact, we had an 18-percent increase in the number of ballots cast last year after we made the changes.”

      While Parasiuk is not saying the Vancity board members are communists, he’s “really disturbed when people start tampering with democratic elections within a credit union”.

      “Imagine if Stephen Harper came along,” Parasiuk went on, “and said, ‘You know what, in the next election, we’re not going to have parties. We’re just going to have a slate of names and the names that I like will be at the top of the list.’ Well, imagine people here on this board would be going berserk, saying this is undemocratic. Well I’m saying that the way this is happening, this is very undemocratic. This is a slippery slope. It’s very dangerous.”

      With guidelines set by the board, Vancity’s nominations and elections committee, headed by newspaper columnist Allen Garr, recommended five candidates for the three director positions.

      The list does not include two incumbent directors seeking new terms: Wendy Holm and Lisa Barrett.

      But the list has incumbent director and board vice-chair Jan O’Brien. To many, O’Brien is known as the provincial secretary of the B.C. NDP and the wife of Vision Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs.

      Garr’s committee includes Vancity director Patrice Pratt, a former president of the B.C. NDP, and four non–board members.

      O’Brien, Garr, Pratt, and Weiler used to belong to the Action Team slate that ran in previous Vancity elections.

      Although Holm and Barrett aren’t happy, they separately told the Straight by phone that they can’t talk much about their nonrecommendations because they could be disqualified.

      Holm, who is in her fourth term on the board, is a UBC agrologist. Barrett is a second-termer, and a former mayor of Bowen Island. They have always run as independent candidates.

      Parasiuk has known Holm since the 1990s, when he was serving as the founding president of Vancity Enterprises, a real-estate-development subsidiary of the credit union.

      Aside from O’Brien, the board is recommending Teresa Conway, Michael DuBelko, Greg McDade, and James Wright.

      Wright, the general director of the Vancouver Opera, told the Straight by phone that he appreciates the endorsement by the Garr committee.

      Garr didn’t return the Straight’s call before deadline.

      Weiler explained how the candidates were evaluated. “We looked at values, alignment, their attributes, their skills, and the experience and the leadership track record,” she said. “And we asked the nominations and election committee to interview and assess all of the candidates that put their names forward.”

      Ultimately, according to Weiler, it’s up to the members to make their choices.



      Paul Johnston

      Apr 12, 2012 at 8:04am

      I was appalled when I opened my ballot and saw the way the list of candidates had been manipulated. It made me consider NOT voting for any of the "recommended" candidates, although I favour two on that list. What were these people thinking ?

      Doreen Braverman, ARCA Chair

      Apr 12, 2012 at 8:45am

      When I was Chair of Vancity's Nominations Committee, the committee's role was to check nominated candidates for eligibility and to draw lots for position in the election bulletin. I saw the role of the committee to encourage qualified candidates, depending on the composition of the board. It wasn't to be because the Action Slate assumed that role. I do not support the committee recommending candidates. Let the members decide.

      vancity member

      Apr 12, 2012 at 11:00am

      Thanks for writing this timely article. I hope others will eschew the board's oligarchic self-appointment, do their own research and vote for Barrett and Holm.

      C Williams

      Apr 12, 2012 at 11:12am

      I am a member of BOTH Vancity and Coast Capital Savings Credit Union. I personally don't think it is right that you are only focusing on Vancity in this article, when Coast Capital Savings does the EXACT same thing in recommending board members. Both Credit Unions are going through board elections and I have to admit I was shocked when I opened my ballots and saw that both had a long list of recommended candidates. HOWEVER these are JUST recommendations that doesn't mean that you HAVE to vote for the recommended candidates. As an owner of a credit union YOU have a voice, YOU make the decision as to who goes on the board. Recommendations are just that recommendations. If you are going to slam one credit union get your, do your research and slam them all as they ALL do the same thing!


      Apr 12, 2012 at 11:19am

      I too was in a state of shock, horror and outrage when I read the contents of my voting package.

      Elections are the way members vote and we do not need a selection committee from the board to tell us who WE the members think are qualified.

      A sad and shameful day for VanCity indeed. One might even go so far as to ask "where's the democratic election for the board of directors?" Gone the way of the dinosaur?

      Maybe Harper will have to call in the troups..... to save democracy?

      Vancity member

      Apr 12, 2012 at 1:26pm

      Interesting how the article reinforces the criticism levelled against Vancity by only naming the recommended candidates and incumbents, while not naming any of the other candidates! For the record, the other candidates are Dhorea Kencayd, Dallas Kachan, Mitch Cramp, Darren Jukes, Gil Yaron, Michael Burke and Greg Banwell.

      While I completely agree with the general criticism articulated in the article, and the comments that the author should extend his critique to other credit unions, it should be noted that this is getting close to the way board nominees are put forward for election with respect to public corporations. In that instance, the CEO essentially handpicks candidates that are put to the shareholders as a slate for rubber stamp approval. Options are rarely given to shareholders.


      Apr 12, 2012 at 2:17pm

      The election is entirely democratic. If the nomination process is anything like other credit unions, I'd imagine that Vancity interviewed the candidates, looked at its own skill matrix and determined which of the nominees are what Vancity and its board needs now. It is good corporate governance. Members should be pleased to have such a hands-on board.

      Roger McNeill

      Apr 12, 2012 at 3:00pm

      Mountain Equipment Coop went through a candidate endorsement phase a number of years ago but then dropped endorsement and went back to purely democratic elections after seeing the bias that resulted. Vancity should do the same before nepotism becomes too deeply entrenched.

      Want my Credit Union Back

      Apr 12, 2012 at 3:58pm

      The Chair, Virgiinia Wieler, rivals Peter MacKay for spin and dissembling. I was at last year's Vancity AGM and a vast majority of speakers were totally opposed to this new nomination trick. There were more who wanted to speak against it but comments were cut off. Nobody I know EVER asked to be told who to vote for!
      The only reason the number of votes may have increased is because online voting was finally introduced last year, an essential point that Ms Wieler conveniently omits.
      Additionally, it should be known that voter turnout is around 5% of membership. An 18% increase in 5% barely registers as a percentage point. I hope the Chair isn't playing with any other numbers at the credit union!

      Doug Park

      Apr 12, 2012 at 4:34pm

      Jacob writes, "I'd imagine that Vancity interviewed the candidates, looked at its own skill matrix and determined..."

      Ah, but who is "Vancity?" You say "Vancity" did this and "Vancity" did that, but what you mean is, "An unelected group representing a faction of the current Board, Vision Vancouver, and the right wing of the provincial NDP." Myself, I would tend to identify Vancity as its members.

      I am a member of Coast Capital, and made sure to vote for the NON-recommended candidate specifically because I object to the recommendations existing. Well, and he seemed a decent and qualified candidate. It occurs to me now maybe I should have NOT voted for any of the recommended ones, in order to make the outsider even stronger relatively.

      Of course, it could be worse. Years ago I was a member of REI (like MEC, only in the states) and the only way you could run for the board was to be nominated by the current board. There were - for example - seven positions available, seven candidates nominated, and no write-ins allowed on the last ballot I saw. As noted before, essentially this is the Albanian/Maoist approach.

      (p.s. As described in various articles before, there is the strong impression that Jan O'Brien's fellow NDP top brass seem to be likewise doing their best to tilt the Vancouver Fairview nomination in the direction of her husband Meggs. Happily, all they have been able to do so far is keep overruling the riding executive's nomination dates, delaying the meeting for about a year in order to make it as convenient as possible for Meggs, if he decides to formally throw his hat in at all that is. Fortunately it seems they cannot actually just declare him the preferred candidate openly, as at Vancity. So, there will be at least the opportunity for an open vote whenever it is finally allowed, as with Gabriel Yiu beating the Vision-approved candidate George Chow in Vancouver Fraserview.)