A motion to quash the recent election of the Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) president and board — as well as any business they may have conducted since their January election — will be put to a membership vote at a special general meeting (SGM) on March 11.
“The best-case scenario coming out of the SGM would be that there would be a fair election process that elects a full board and a full executive,” says former board member Ray Lam, who spearheaded the SGM requisition.
Lam ran unsuccessfully for president at Pride’s Jan 20 annual general meeting and plans to run again if a new election is called.
His requisition, signed by 39 VPS members, calls for a new election in the wake of alleged voting irregularities involving individuals casting multiple votes.
Lam says two members simultaneously cast their own ballots and ballots for organizations they represent. “The concern with regards to that is the fact that one member only gets one vote,” he says, adding that VPS bylaws are “very clear” about prohibiting proxies.
VPS bylaw 46 states that “voting by proxy is not permitted.”
Lam also says the VPS received insufficient written notice regarding who would represent eight member organizations. “What we discovered was that of the 12 organizations that came up to vote, only four of them provided a letter, meaning anyone could have come and said, ‘I’m representing X organization’ and be given a vote, which is not proper,” he contends.
Lam says the alleged irregularities were challenged at the AGM, but nothing came of it.
Former Pride Society vice-president Shawn Ewing, who resigned days after the January election, says holding an SGM is the right thing to do because “we did something wrong.”
Ewing, who chaired the AGM, says she came away from the meeting with questions about the quorum needed for the election, especially since VPS president Ken Coolen beat his closest competitor by only two votes.
“The end result was there was confusion, a lack of clarity around the numbers entitled to vote, the people that voted,” she says.
Ewing says Coolen’s nomination by a community group member, rather than an individual, was a first for the VPS. “When it came up it was like, ‘Well, that can’t happen.’ Well, there’s nothing in our bylaws that says that it can’t happen.”
According to the BC Society Act, “a voting member of a society has only one vote, and, despite any contrary provision in the bylaws, may exercise that vote on every matter without restrictions.”
“I believe in the concept of one person, one vote, and that’s how I interpret the Society Act,” Ewing says.
Lam says a new chair has been recruited for the SGM, somebody “completely removed” from the Pride Society to ensure fair process. It’s a move that both the requisitionists and the four remaining VPS board members agreed upon, he says.
VPS general manager Scott Blythe declined to speak to Xtra about the SGM, saying any media requests will have to “go through Ken.”
Coolen declined an emailed request for an interview. “Thank you for the email and the opportunity but at this time I feel that any more engagement in the media will be counterproductive for myself and the Vancouver Pride Society as a whole,” he wrote.
He encourages everyone interested in the issues to attend the SGM, whether or not they are VPS members. “Members will have the opportunity to vote, but all community members are welcome to attend.”
Coolen has not said whether he will run for president again if a new election is called.
Following Ewing’s resignation, newly elected board member Trevor Ashcroft also submitted a letter of resignation, stating he could no longer be part of a board that “our membership is so fervently against.”
The result of the departures is a depleted board that has been in limbo for weeks, unable to conduct business because of a lack of quorum.
Ewing says an election should be held to put at least one more person on the board so it can do business.
In addition to alleged voting irregularities, some VPS members have expressed reservations about Coolen’s leadership, but usually in vague terms.
“Unfortunately, as the chief requisitionist, I don’t feel comfortable answering that because I don’t want that to be perceived as part of the reason for the requisition. It is completely separate from that,” Lam says.
“I’m confident that we would have had a treasurer and secretary if I was president,” Lam told Xtra in January, when several directors, including treasurer Bernard Leclair, refused to run again after Coolen’s reelection.
“A number of people have been questioning the leadership,” Leclair told Xtra at the time. “I have been questioning the leadership.”
Like Lam, Leclair will not elaborate on his leadership concerns now. But he says he’s been “questioning the leadership for three years” and finds it “really, really lacking.”
He says he has filled out nomination papers to be on the executive if a new election is called. “I intend to continue on as treasurer if the membership will have me.”
“This isn’t a personal thing,” Ewing told Xtra after the January election. “I love Ken, the person, dearly. He has done some wonderful things for the organization and the community. This is about the leadership of an organization I care very deeply about. He is not the right person to lead.”
Though reticent to specify her leadership concerns, Ewing says there was little enthusiasm for board meetings under Coolen’s direction. “Board meetings were almost dreaded because there was such a huge potential for crap. That’s certainly how I felt,” she says. “There was difficulty for some people to separate personal from the board.”
Ewing, who says she will not run again in a prospective election, would like to see former secretary and Pride parade co-chair Tim Richards run for president.
“I think he’s an outstanding candidate. He’s got a project manager background, he’s got people skills that are exceptional, and he’s well respected by all of the people that are both past and present board members,” Ewing says.
Attempts to reach Richards were unsuccessful by press time.
Vancouver Pride Society
Special general meeting
Sun, March 11
Call to order: 12:05pm
Holiday Inn, 1110 Howe St