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Harding removed as Centre’s executive director

Board members 'determined Michael was not the best fit for The Centre': Breakspear

TERMINATED'. 'I'm not in a position right now to comment at all. I'm in a delicate position. There's a new executive director. Her name is Jennifer Breakspear,' says Michael Harding. Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

Michael Harding is no longer executive director of The Centre.

The Centre’s board of directors ended Harding’s tenure in a unanimously adopted written resolution arising out of a Jan 14 meeting, according to board co-chair Craig Maynard. Harding, who took up the position only seven months ago, left The Centre Jan 18.

Board member Jennifer Breakspear was appointed interim executive director and will serve in that capacity while the board embarks on a recruitment drive over the next several weeks to find a replacement for Harding.

“I’m not at The Centre, I don’t work there anymore. I cannot say anything,” says Harding when Xtra West contacted him for comment.

“You know me. When I can, I talk to you. I’m not in a position right now to comment at all. I’m in a delicate position. There’s a new executive director. Her name is Jennifer Breakspear.”

“We terminated Michael Harding’s employment as executive director. It was determined by the board that Michael was not the best fit for The Centre and the delivery of our programs and services,” Breakspear reveals when reached for comment. She refused to go into greater detail of “what might have transpired exactly” but noted that “it was best to change leadership to ensure the continued excellent delivery of those programs and services.” She adds that the board is committed to The Centre’s staff, to our volunteers, and to the programs for our community, and this was really done with all of that in mind.”

Asked if there was a belief that Centre programs weren’t going to continue under Harding’s tenure, Breakspear says she’s not “in any way” suggesting that. “I’m just telling you that it is the board’s commitment to focus on our core programs and services.”

Maynard told Xtra West in June that Harding’s background in social programming and community development was “a good, strong basis for him being able to carry on” as executive director following the departure of Donna Wilson who had been in the position for 11 years. In touting Harding’s credentials then, Maynard highlighted the professional fundraiser’s involvement “in the early days of AIDS Vancouver,” and pointed to his demonstrated ability to raise capital and forge community connections as further attributes the board was looking for in moving The Centre forward.

Harding was shortlisted from an original slate of 20 candidates who applied for the job through online ads The Centre’s board posted, Maynard noted at the time.

Asked to explain why the view of Harding’s skills set had changed after seven months, Maynard is vague.

“Without being very specific — because we’re being general in explaining these things, because we are preserving Michael’s privacy rights — there’s only a certain amount of information, we can release. Whether you’re a temporary volunteer or executive director, you still have the right not to have your work at The Centre publicly discussed,” Maynard maintains.

For community activist Jamie Lee Hamilton, Harding’s departure comes as a shock.

“It came out of, one might say, left field. It totally was surprising,” she says.

“Michael was hired as the best person. There was an extensive interview process and a number of shortlisted candidates and really qualified people, so they felt they had picked the best one and his record, his previous work speaks for itself,” adds Hamilton who runs a program for aboriginal, two-spirited youth out of The Centre. “I found him very welcoming and very knowledgeable about First Nations issues.”

Little Sister’s co-ower Jim Deva fears that Harding’s removal will interfere with the ongoing project to find a new site for The Centre, noting that Harding had put a lot of energy into the task.

Maynard says there’s been no change in the “ongoing effort” to find new space for the organization, noting that two locations in the downtown area have come up as possibilities. He also declined to get specific on this matter.