Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Report on the UNA AGM

            Annual general meetings are rarely exciting events even if they are important to the life of an organization.  Last night’s UNA AGM was no exception.  Several major by-law changes were passed and one significant bylaw change was rejected.  Changes to the bylaws now make the addition of new directors a more automatic process, have removed a designated faculty/staff elected resident director position, and have made 18 years of age the official minimum age that one can be a UNA member.  A proposal to remove the clause that allowed the Chair of the UNA to break tie votes was defeated. 
            The only kerfuffle of note came when I rose to table the motion removing a designated faculty/staff resident director position.  A resounding circus of confusion followed. Unfortunately many people present did not understand what a motion to table actual means.  Nor did they understand what the proper procedure to follow was.  When the chair asked for direction many audience members said skip the motion to table. 
            “Do we vote on Charles’ motion,” asked the chair. 
            “No!” shouted out a crowd in the back of the room.  
            Momentary mayhem followed.
            Not until Jim Taylor, former UNA Chair and long time area resident, interjected was order restored. 
            “A motion to table must be considered immediately.  All that can be debated in the length of time. We must vote now.” 
            The motion to table lost by a handful of votes and we then proceeded to vote on the main motion that ended with passing a change in the bylaws that took away the faculty/staff designated seat on the board.  In retrospect I rather wished I hadn’t moved a motion to table the resolution as the ensuing confusion lead to a 30 minute delay that, had the rules of order been followed could have been dealt with in all of five minutes.  But what is a meeting without some heated discussion and a little bit of mayhem?  The meeting continued with the votes on the remaining bylaw resolutions proceeding with little debate or discussion. 
            The resolution on the Chair’s second or casting vote in event of a tie was defeated with little debate.  It was clear from the outset that the audience had made it’s mind up on that decision and a massive majority defeated it.  Meeting attendees argued that in the event of a tie and no casting vote for the chair (who is typically a resident) the balance of power would in practice fall to the appointed directors.
            The meeting ended with a detailed presentation by Jim Taylor on his four options for local governance: (1) status quo (2) amalgamation with Vancouver (3) local municipal government, or (4) special municipal government. 
            Jim walked us through each of these options explaining his personal thoughts on why they were good or bad. As one of the architect of our current governance structure Jim sees much of value in maintaining some form of the status quo (he sometimes talks about an ‘enhanced’ status quo). 
            Jim also expressed his fears of a Vancouver take over and the ill effects that would lead to. As the presentation went on Jim focused on how being absorbed into Vancouver would lead to drops in the quality of life, declines in services, and ultimately the devaluation of property values.  Unfortunately no evidence was provided to substantiate any of these opinions.  The truth is that Vancouver does not want the UNA.  The only politician who has in any way advanced this idea is failed conservative NPA mayoralty candidate Susan Anton who is on public record advocating the inclusion of the UNA and UEL within Vancouver. 
            Jim also suggested that if we achieved a real local government, residents like “a visiting professor from Arkansas” would be deprived a vote in the UNA and we would end up with a two-tiered community.  “I want to be able to walk past my neighbour knowing they have the same rights that I do,” Jim said.  If we go down the route of real democracy “we’ll have absentee landlords from Toronto voting in our elections.” Jim is correct that many of the residents in Vancouver and in our community are not Canadian citizens, which is the typical basic criteria to be able to vote in local, provincial, or national elections.   This is the standard that most democracies uphold.  However, there is nothing that says our own local governance system couldn’t be created in such a way that all residents who have made a commitment to make this their home, all permanent residents, can be able to vote.  However, raising it as he did and in the manner that he did acts to create a wedge between peoples, it creates conflict where none exists.   There are good reasons to make sure that people who participate in a democracy have a real stake in the outcome, not a short term real estate investment or a short holiday here, but a long term commitment to make this country their home.  One of the ways that people do that is to begin the journey of becoming a permanent resident and ultimately a Canadian citizen.  While we may have abstract augments and critiques of the problems with citizenship, for the moment becoming a citizen is a critical act of commitment to belonging and an acceptance of the obligations and responsibilities of a real democracy. 
             At the close of Jim’s talk the election results were announced: OUR’s community-based, resident team of Alexander, Menzies, and Wu won a decisive electoral victory with more than2/3rds support of the electorate!

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