Leadership Wanted

Who speaks for BC credit unions? This week the new face of the BC credit union system (or absence of one) was in view as credit unions met with FICOM and the Ministry of Finance.

With the imminent demise of the Central 1 Legislative Committee (on the table at the upcoming Central 1 AGM) there is no longer any forum or delegated body directing BC credit union system lobbying and government relations. The government relations (‘GR’) function has been reassigned to the Canadian Credit Union Association (‘CCUA’) by the board of Central 1.

There are two big problems with this new arrangement. First, BC credit unions no longer have a democratically accountable representative body responsible for relations with our BC government and regulator. Second, BC credit unions have no primary spokesperson to represent them credibly at the political level or at the executive level.

Let’s consider the first question; who is in charge? Effectively, no one. The VP Government Relations at the CCUA reports to the CEO and Board. Three seats on the CCUA Board are filled by BC, out of 16. At the discretion of the VP, a ‘community of practice’ is convened in BC; in effect, the GR operatives from the 5 largest credit unions. There is no accountable or representative body to seek consensus or resolution on difficult public policy positions in BC.

In the past this function has rested with the Central 1 Legislative Committee, with representation from small, medium and large credit unions. And above that the Board of Central 1 could also act as an arbiter on behalf of BC credit unions. Now the accountability is murky and bureaucratic.

The primary spokesperson for BC credit unions has, in the past, been the elected director of Central 1 who sat as chair of the Legislative Committee. In effect, this was an elected official who could speak as an equal to elected representatives in the legislature and government. Pending changes leave a void.

Two and more years ago the CEO of Central 1 would play a facilitator role and be the ambassador at the executive level. The CEO would link to the deputy minister and similar officials, and also convene meetings with the Superintendent. This role has been abandoned at Central 1.

The meeting this past week illuminated a serious weakness going forward. No one could confidently speak for BC credit unions. Conveniently defining ‘government relations’ as a technocratic service overlooks the political realities. We need political leadership in the political realm of (1) building a shared agenda, and (2) seeking legislative results.

Political leadership is required to direct the efforts – whether the analysts and operatives are provided through the CCUA or otherwise. Unfortunately, the CCUA and the board of Central 1 have missed this point in their haste to transfer this function. Now, we are left to ad lib; with major legislative and regulatory changes coming our way.

For these reasons – an erosion of democratic accountability and a structural vacuum in political leadership – I am proposing that my credit union not support the special resolution at the upcoming Central 1 AGM to wind up the Legislative Committee.

We need a better political model.

5 thoughts on “Leadership Wanted

  1. Ross – thank you for another considered, courageous and thought-provoking article. Do you believe that the presented concerns are specific to BC/FICOM? Or a symptom of alignment/representation of large vs small credit unions?

    • The problem arises from bifurcation, the diverging perspectives of large and small credit unions. The problem is not limited to relations with the regulator, but also provincial and federal governments. All credit unions are weakened by the failure to craft a good shared agenda and cultivate effective political champions.

  2. your comments highlight the need for a feedback mechanism wherein we ensure CCUA is delivering the results it has promised. this was discussed and promised; the membership should be reminded of this at the AGM. in my mind, the effectiveness of the C1 leg committee was already eroded when it became a bi-provincial committee.

    • Yes, I agree with you regarding the C1 leg committee. On the CCUA front, ‘delivering results’ tends to frame the relationship more like a commercial purchase of services, which is a narrow framing. And the CCUA AGM is a weak accountability link.

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