Thinking About “ReThink”

Controversy over the proposed centralized governance model


This is the CBA’s year to “ReThink.” A time to decide on organizational change. The ReThink steering committee has completed its tasks. Its proposed “strategic direction” document promoting a leaner, more nimble voice for the legal profession was recently approved by the National Board with little debate. However, the committee’s proposed centralized model of governance is controversial. 

A vote on any new governance model will likely occur this August, rather than February as initially advised.

Here are three of the controversial proposals:

1. Centralization. Staff and Branch budgeting would be overseen by a new CEO working at the national office in Ottawa. Currently, local autonomy allows each Branch to oversee its own staff and budgeting process. Under the proposed governance model, the BC Branch (“BC”) would give up key decision-making. BC would no longer elect its own Secretary-Treasurer. All BC budgeting requests would flow through to National CBA for approval. With Branch approvals likely in a queue to be decided by a small Board, I doubt centralization would be quicker and nimbler. Given the economy, we should also examine lowering our membership fees which has not been done.

2. Elimination of Provincial Council. Provincial Council is an important community of CBA leaders. Since last September, your Executive Committee has been making meaningful changes to engage Provincial Council members on substantive issues, such as access to justice. Provincial Council can become a more effective forum for our elected and Section representatives to exchange views, debate issues and network with lawyers from across BC.

The assumption is that eliminating Provincial Council (and National Council) will save money. The steering committee admits that no financial analysis, business plan or budgeting forecasts have been undertaken in regard to the proposed governance model. Without such a financial analysis, I cannot automatically conclude that the new governance structure will lead to overall savings. Any monies saved will likely be spent on the new governance structure, including a new CEO, regional and national directors and other new staff or structures.

3. A NOVEL National Board. The proposed National Board will no longer be fully elected nor representative of Canada. Five “nominees” from amalgamated “regions” will sit on the proposed Board, who will then select four other “skills-based” Board members. A non-voting CEO would complete the 10-member Board. Each would sit for a three-year term. The national president would be elected by a separate “electoral college.” Given this, BC may, for three years or more, find itself submitting most, if not all, of its key budgeting and operational decisions to a National Board that has no BC representative.

Our current National Board is admittedly large – about 24 members. I believe a new National Board should have at least 13 seats – one for each province and territory.

The CBA has an amazing history. Founded in 1896, we have existed as a professional organization for three centuries. In my view, the CBA should reflect Confederation rather than centralization. Each province is unique, with its own history, politics and needs. A one-size-fits-all, top-down centralized model would not be representative of the legal profession. Maybe we should become more of a federation of branches with a national body serving clearly defined and negotiated duties.

I support organizational change that makes the CBA a stronger grassroots organization reflecting strong voices from each province and territory. That is how we remain attractive and relevant to our members.

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