Monday, January 30, 2012

Saskatoon Council meeting cancelled

Beginning in 2006, Council changed bylaws to enable us to take one in-person meeting of Council on the road each year. Equity is a national organisation, and we felt it was important that members across the country had access to Council meetings, similar to that enjoyed by Toronto-area members. Since the implementation of this policy, we have held meetings in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax and St. John's. Our meeting this summer was to be held in Saskatoon.

Regretfully, Council has had to cancel the Saskatoon meeting due to financial constraints and the meeting will, instead, be held in Toronto. Convening Council outside Toronto entails significantly greater cost (potentially as much as $15K more), and meetings across the country have attracted scant or no attendance by the local membership. Despite our desire to continue making Council meetings more accessible, we cannot currently afford the cost and the time-consuming long distance planning required for these to continue.

Council will be reexamining the bylaw on meeting locations at its February meeting, with the goal of maintaining as much cross-country access as possible, while reducing expenses. We welcome ideas for how Council can help members across the country remain connected to their elected representatives.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dues referendum results

(The following is a reprint of my Winter 2012 EQ column.)

By this point, I hope that most people know how the recent dues referendum turned out. More than half of the membership supported both proposals, but bylaws require us to achieve a two-thirds majority, and that means that both ultimately failed. We take our instructions from the membership and respect what you have told us. Council and staff will move quickly to adjust to this new fiscal outlook, and you can expect to hear more regarding service and structural changes in the coming months.

This referendum was full of learning opportunities for Council and staff. It was our first referendum conducted electronically, and also the first conducted through multiple channels. Although any stumbles were mercifully minor, we took copious notes for future improvement.

Given the fact that our members are so plugged-in to the Internet, we were surprised to discover that almost half of all ballots came in by mail. Habit, perhaps, but this drove up the final cost of the referendum beyond what we expected. For next year’s Council elections, we will almost certainly shift to an all-electronic process to keep expenses down. Mail-in ballots may still be available by request, but not sent out as part of the voter package.

It was also our first referendum conducted in the era of Facebook. Previously, members would get together and discuss the issue du jour with a half-dozen colleagues in a green room or bar. Now they can do it with hundreds at once. While that is great for encouraging debate, it means that we have to practically camp online to keep up with the pace of discussion. Facebook gives me hives at the best of times, and I spent almost three whole weeks answering questions and posting different versions of “well, actually...” messages. I’ll be glad to see the back of that for a while....

A truly staggering number of members wrote or phoned in the final days to say that they didn’t know there was a referendum going on, and wanting to know how to cast their vote. The office phone rang with these inquiries right up to the very last minute. I personally find this level of incognizance far more dismaying than the referendum results. After two EQ columns, a special edition of the Council Link, EQUITYONLINE postings, special FAQ pages on the Council Connection blog, a series of five web forums, a dozen targeted email reminders, hundreds of Facebook posts, an automated phone campaign, and a mailed-out voter kit, all I have to say is, “Wake the  up! We flogged the referendum to the point of nagging – this is your Association and you need to pay better attention.” (I can say that, because I know they’re not reading this.)

I’d like to finish with a special recognition for all the staff who provided yeoman service on this project, coping particularly well with the frenetic pace of the last few days of voting. While I’ve closed a number of recent letters and messages with the statement that everything Equity does begins with the members, you also need to know that it wouldn’t happen, period, without our excellent staff. Hats off to them.