Rethinking ReThink

Local autonomy and centralization


Since my last column, two new proposed CBA governance models are being circulated for comments – the "Brittania" and the "Dixie" model. Those models replace the earlier proposed governance model I discussed in my last column.

In February, I had the privilege of participating in a smaller ReThink committee. We agreed that any new governance model should maximize local autonomy and centralize only those matters that needed to be centralized.

Do the two new governance models achieve that goal? Not quite. Thankfully, both models leave it to each Branch to decide whether to retain Provincial Council.

There are a number of concerns with each of the two proposed models. The first concern is budgeting. Both models suggest that the new National Board approve (or control) Branch budgets. I do not support National Board control over our Branch’s budget. What if, for example, the BC Branch were to allocate increased funds toward Provincial Council, but a National Board on which BC had no seat disagreed? I would favour a model that rewrites the current funding formula to provide Branches with the majority of their membership fees, rather than CBA’s national office. In BC, we currently retain only 30% of our membership fees.

The next concern is the size of the National Board. Both models reject the current 24 seats. The current National Board consists of 13 Branch presidents and 11 National seats (e.g. for the National table officers and National Sections and Forums).

The “Brittania” model proposes to trim the 24 seats to seven “skills-based” seats. Under this model, any CBA member could sit on the National Board by applying to a committee composed of Board members, Branch presidents and Section chairs. The National President would be elected by the Board. Under this model, the BC Branch is not guaranteed a seat. So, for example, if the National Board were to debate an intervention at the BC Court of Appeal, the BC Branch might not have a vote.

I doubt whether seven volunteer Board members could effectively address national and regional differences and concerns. Additionally, backroom politicking could dominate the Board membership, promoting cronyism and favouritism. A small board governing a national CBA could become a barrier to advancement by racially-diverse members and other disadvantaged groups. Let’s not take that risk.

The “Dixie” model proposes a more democratic National Board, with 14 seats: one for each Branch president (or designate) and one for the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association. This model guarantees BC a seat on the National Board. Since the National President is selected from the elected Branch presidents, this model is much more democratic. Accordingly, this is the only model I can support.

The “Dixie” model could be tweaked further to allow for the direct election of a National President – either at a new proposed Annual General Meeting (which would replace National Council) or through a mail or electronic ballot process where each member is provided a vote and information on all potential board members. The criteria and election process should guarantee one seat for each Branch and contain minimum mandatory guidelines in regard to gender, racial diversity, skills, volunteer and work experiences.

Truth be told, if possible, I would reject both models and vote for a federation – one that allows our Branch to retain the majority of our membership funds and protects independent decision-making to focus on the needs of our Branch.

Branches are the face of the CBA. Strong Branches make a strong national CBA. In August, National Council is expected to vote on a new governance model. I will continue to push for a strong Branch voice and a governance model that promotes opportunities for all members to become CBA leaders.

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