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Pride Toronto looks for new leaders

Coalition for Free Speech to question candidates at public forum

Toronto Pride Parade 2010. Credit: Matt Mills photo

It’s been a tumultuous year for Pride Toronto, between the censorship fiasco, financial problems and public conflict with Blackness Yes and leaders in the trans community. With a city council motion to defund Pride still hanging in the air, the organization will select new leadership at the annual general meeting, planned for Sept 23.

Director nominations closed on Aug 25, and voters at the AGM will select three new board members, including both co-chairs.

Nominees will be vetted by the current board, and they will be elected well ahead of promised community consultations to address the future of Pride Toronto. The process has activists concerned.

In mid-August, the folks behind Pride Community Contract called on the current board, executive director Tracey Sandilands and World Pride 2014 chair Mark Singh to resign ahead of the AGM.

“We have no confidence that the leadership of Pride Toronto as presently constituted, including the current board and the ED, can competently lead any process of reconciliation in Toronto’s queer community,” read the statement.

Community Contract organizers were not immediately available to comment.

At the same time, the Pride Coalition for Free Speech is planning an all-candidates style meeting where potential directors can take questions from the community at large. The meeting will be held at the 519 Church Street Community Centre on Sept 8 at 7pm. (Xtra will co-sponsor that meeting, and Marcus McCann, Xtra’s managing editor, is one of the organizers.)

Earlier in the summer, Martin Kuplens-Ewart and Matthew Cutler, working with the coalition, suggested that critics volunteer at Pride in order to earn a vote at the AGM. The coalition now appears to be adopting their working-inside-the-system approach.

“People don’t really have a lot of information about these candidates going into the general meeting, which makes it difficult to vote on,” says Ashleigh Ingle of the Coalition for Free Speech.

She is also concerned that candidates may be disqualified before the vote. Pride’s bylaws give the existing board the power to screen nominees. That screening process is also why the board will not accept nominations from the floor of the AGM. But according to Margaret Ngai, interim co-chair, the screening process is about competence, not politics; the board is looking for candidates with a background working within complex, volunteer-dependent nonprofits.

“It’s more the skillset that we’re looking for,” says Ngai. “To say, this person can analyze the situation and they’re committed to the values of Pride, to making Pride successful, so their intention is not to say, ‘Hey, you know, I really hate Pride, and I want to see it gone.’”

Ngai was quick to clarify that critics of Pride could qualify.

“I don’t think they hate Pride. I think all the comments that we’ve got so far are people who are passionate about Pride,” she says. “They want Pride to represent something, and obviously Pride exists to serve its membership, so the members can definitely shape the strategic direction.”

The Coalition for Free Speech argues that a new strategic direction will be difficult if directors are elected before community consultations are complete.

“We really think it would be most beneficial if the AGM would occur after the consultation process, so that any of the people who are running can take into account the issues of the community and actually address those issues,” says Ingle.

But Ngai thinks that a good board is always ready to respond to feedback.

“You can’t predict things three years down the road,” she says. “A board member or a competent board member should be able to take recommendations and input at any point in time and influence how the organization functions on behalf of the members.”

In the meantime, she says, the board’s responsibility is to keep operating.

“We are incorporating the findings and recommendations from the panel into the strategic planning process, but that should be independent of the normal operation of the organization.”

Despite their differences, the Coalition for Free Speech hopes that Pride’s existing board will endorse, or at least attend, the candidates’ forum. Ngai has promised to discuss the matter with the board but noted that she has some practical concerns.

“Right now, because the request just came in this week, our plan is to have the final list of candidates almost a week before the AGM,” she says. “We’ll have to see, logistically, how that can even happen.”