Sunday, March 18, 2012

How I plan to vote in the Mountain Equipment Co-op election #MECelxn

[For 2013 MEC election endorsements see this 2013-03-18 post.]

[Post edited 2012-03-19 thru 2012-03-27 to reflect new info received.]

Breaking news 2012-03-21: Candidate Morrie Schneiderman has signed the Open Letter opposing the Special Resolution -- check it out at! So I changed my voting plans below:


I plan to vote for Drew Anderson, Mike Wearing, and Blair Hammond Morrie Schneiderman.

(I think Morrie Schneiderman Blair Hammond and Robert Campbell are also great candidates -- my 4th & 5th picks.)

I definitely plan to vote NO on the Special Resolution!

My main reason for the above votes: strengthening the connection between the board and MEC members. I asked all candidates their opinion on the Special Resolution. Opposing it is a major plus factor in my choice of who to vote for -- see Open Letter at

How To Cast Your Vote:

You'll need your member number and PIN to vote. If you received an election primer in the mail, both numbers are on the back of your primer.

You can vote online or by phone:

To vote online: Go to and click on the VOTE NOW button at upper right. (If you don't have a PIN, there's a link to get one.)

To vote by phone: Call 1-877-561-8888.

Problems voting?: (E.g. forgot your member number?) Call member services at 1-888-847-0770.

Voting started in February; deadline is March 29, 2012 (noon Pacific time).

How I Evaluated the Candidates:

I'm not an expert in evaluating candidates. I'm an expert in designing voter information systems that attract experts in evaluating candidates, to give voters the benefit of expert advice. (My cv: Since MEC doesn't have such a system in place, I'm sharing my less-than-expert evaluations of candidates.

I appreciate the work done by all MEC board members, and I thank all the candidates for offering their time and expertise to serve MEC.

I especially appreciate the board's attention to the important problem of how to get the best possible new directors nominated and elected to the board. Their proposed Special Resolution is intended to help with this problem. But based on my years of experience in this area, I'm afraid the resolution would make matters worse instead of better. The Open Letter at (which I have signed and urge all members to sign) explains why: the resolution would weaken the connection between the board and MEC members. (Besides, there's a much better way to improve the director selection process, by strengthening the connection between board and members; more on that later.)

This is so important that not only will I vote NO on the resolution, but also I want to vote for director candidates who oppose it. Comparing the various candidates' experience, qualifications and platform statements, I don't find any so outstandingly better or worse than the others that it would make more difference to me than their stance on the resolution. The resolution is my hot-button issue this year.

It shouldn't have to be this way. We members should be able to vote for candidates based on their experience etc, without worrying about losing our ability to nominate directors. But the Special Resolution would let a board-selected nomination committee veto any member nomination, based on the committee's subjective judgments. So to preserve MEC members' ability to choose the best directors in future, I now choose the candidates most likely to defend our members' nomination rights.

Here's how the resolution is shown on MEC's online ballot (I've selected "No"):

MEC has built a beautiful detailed election website at, with well organized information about each candidate. However, this website does not facilitate an open shared discussion among MEC members about the candidates. Open shared discussions are a common feature on many websites, so software for that is readily available. For example, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (a nonprofit with a large membership) hosted an election discussion at The MEC board and staff decided not to include this feature. I think this is unfortunate, because an open forum is a great way to share information among all MEC members, thus helping us choose the best candidates.

Also, we can't raise the alarm to other members about the Special Resolution in an election forum, because there is no election forum!

Instead of such an online forum, any member can email any board candidate via these email addresses hosted by MEC: candidate_anderson[at], candidate_campbell[at], candidate_chamberlain[at], candidate_dobson[at], candidate_hammond[at], candidate_mills[at], candidate_mitchell[at], candidate_novek[at], candidate_ourom[at], candidate_schneiderman[at], candidate_wagner[at], candidate_wearing[at], candidate_white[at]

So I emailed each of them this question:
What is your opinion about the Special Resolution on this year's MEC ballot?
My ranking of candidates is based primarily on their answers to that.

I would like to share their replies here with all MEC members, to help us all make more informed voting decisions. However, I hit the following obstacle -- at the bottom of each candidate's reply email was:
"This message is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information which is privileged, confidential or proprietary."
That puzzled me, so I sent each replying candidate 3 followup questions:
  1. When you emailed me your reply below, did you know that this notice was attached to your reply?: "This message is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed and may contain information which is privileged, confidential or proprietary."
  2. Do you mind if I share your replies with others?
  3. Don't you think it would be more helpful to MEC members if we could all see each others' questions to candidates and the candidates' answers, on the web?
Most did not know that the notice was attached. I guess it's an automatic feature of MEC's email system. It doesn't seem applicable to election candidates' answers to questions from voters who could be any of MEC's over 3 million members. Surely there's nothing wrong with sharing election information among voters. And if it can be shared with 3 million members, then it must not be confidential, so can be shared publicly.

Nonetheless, I'm respecting the wishes of those candidates who did not OK sharing their replies publicly, in their answers to #2 above. Of the 12 candidates who replied to these 3 followup questions, 7 OK'd public sharing and 5 did not. The replies from the 7 who OK'd are linked at the end of this post.

I was surprised that so many did not OK public sharing. This is an election. Why wouldn't candidates want their views shared with as many voters as possible? So I read their explanations. Some were influenced by the "confidential" notice. For example, one said:
"Because the emails from candidates contain the restricted use warning that you mention above, I would advise you not to share it."
But other replies indicated that candidates' communications are very limited by MEC's campaign rules:
"...we are very limited in our ability to say what we want and to whom we want - this is very clearly outlined in the rules for candidates. Our email is also audited by MEC staff."
"As candidates, we were asked to abide with rules on how to communicate with members, which include using this MEC address."
"...the MEC elections team is asking that we do not share all our communications with the other candidates..."
"You may share my reply, but not to other candidates."
So apparently there is a rule that candidates are not to share their replies with other candidates. There are at least two problems with this:
  1. Since the MEC website does not enable members to see other members' emailed questions and the candidates' replies, the most practical way to share candidate replies with all MEC members is via a public website, as I am doing here. But that means candidates can see each others' replies!! OMG!! Candidates, please respect the rules by not reading those parts.
  2. Candidates are MEC members, so they should vote in this election. To do so, they too need to hear what all the candidates have to say in order to choose which three (OK, two) to vote for, right?
[I later received the Campaigning Guidelines, now posted here.]

What happened to freedom of speech? What happened to transparency?

Improving MEC's Voter Info System

So having criticized the current setup for MEC elections, do I have any better ideas?

Thank you for asking.  ;-)

Having worked for years on how to improve voter information systems, I recognize that it's hard to get it right. There is no perfect system. There are tradeoffs. For example, depending on how an online forum is designed and administered, it may bring forth personal attacks, which can be detrimental to the election information process. However, years of experimentation have found ways of minimizing such harmful effects, while making the best use of the internet as a forum for discussion that serves the community interest.

I lead a group of volunteers at, a nonprofit open source project. We have developed a voter information system that works well. We give it away for free, and help organizations implement it for free. As a member of MEC since the 1970s, I would be especially happy to help our co-op use VoterMedia.

Our system would let MEC members vote to allocate a limited budget of MEC funds (e.g. $10,000 per election) among competing bloggers who cover the election and evaluate candidates. ( doesn't provide the bloggers -- that's an open competition anyone can enter.) We have helped the University of British Columbia's student union (the Alma Mater Society or AMS) do this for the past six years. You can see the positive impact in video interviews of UBC students, at I especially recommend this one: How VoterMedia Affects Election Campaigns. A quote from it:
"'s definitely, definitely improved the quality of candidates that run in the elections... ...campaigns are now more proactive. The [bloggers] are going to the candidates and asking questions, more detailed than before. And the reason they can get away with that is because those kind of high level questions are already being covered by the [bloggers] and by The Ubyssey [student newspaper] itself. Now, the media who understand the issues, possibly quite a bit better than the general electorate, are able to ask the candidates these questions, able to not only get their responses, but also distill their responses into 'This is what this person actually stands for.' So what you're noticing now though, is these campaigns that are really focused in on people and their ideas, instead of simply who has the most volunteers and the most friends. And that's been a great change for campus, and it's really kind of made student governments a lot more responsive to what's going on within the student body at the time." [-- Alex Lougheed, AMS VP Academic 2008-2009]
For a sample of UBC AMS elections coverage from a leading blog, see Of course, a co-op is different from a student union. The people who would enter and win a competition to cover MEC elections would be those who have insight into MEC and its particular needs.

There's plenty more info at, including our publications page, where I would recommend Briefing on VoterMedia for ASUC. Also we were recently covered in The Tyee:

Comments Please:

I would appreciate hearing your thoughts, questions, advice etc via comments here or email to mark[at] I haven't voted yet, and am open to new info and to changing my mind. I may update this post, or comment below, or write another post.

See you at the MEC AGM on April 25!

Replies from the seven candidates who OK'd unrestricted sharing are linked below -- Morrie Schneiderman, Blair Hammond, Geoffrey White, Shawn Mitchell, Dale Mills, Richard Novek, Chris Wagner, thanks for your openness. To read the others' replies, you can simply email them the questions yourself. [Remember, the section below is not for the candidates' eyes -- no peeking!  ;-) ]

Replies From Candidates Who OK'd Sharing:

The full text of these replies is lengthy, so I've off-loaded it into this pdf file which you can download. Here are some excerpts:

Morrie Schneiderman:

What is your opinion about the Special Resolution on this year's MEC ballot?
Hello Mark,
Thank you for taking the time to ask this question.
I disagree with this resolution.
I think this resolution was proposed because, in the past, special interest groups have tried to influence the outcome of MEC election.  This proposal could prevent the Board being taken over by such a group.  But if such a group did "take over" the Board, the present system would permit reclaiming the Board.  If this amendment were to pass, such re-claiming would not be possible.  Thus I see the solution as being potentially worse than the disease.

Blair Hammond:

What is your opinion about the Special Resolution on this year's MEC ballot?
hi Mark,
Thanks for taking the time to write.
I have no special information on the special resolution (i.e. no insider information), but for the record I voted 'no' on it. I wasn't clear on why it is there and what problem it's trying to fix. Further, if the problem is that some are dissatisfied with the calibre of people being elected to the board, as is implied, there are other ways to resolve that problem that would be consistent with MEC's fundamentally democratic approach to selecting its directors.
So, whilst I recognize that for an organization the size of MEC, having high quality board members is vital, what is sketched out in the special resolution sounded a little bit too much like a more traditional approach to corporate governance that did not seem to be well justified.
If you would like to get a further sense of where I'm at on some issues, I'd invite you to visit my campaign Facebook site: I'll be putting another post up in the next week or so focusing more on some business ideas and approaches I'd like to explore should my campaign be successful.
Thanks for giving me the chance to connect with you.
Blair Hammond
2012 Candidate
MEC Board of Directors

Geoffrey White:

What is your opinion about the Special Resolution on this year's MEC ballot?
Hi Mark,
Thank you for writing.
I interpret the resolution as allowing the Board's nominating committee to identify and nominate it's own candidates.  I see no problem with that.  I would see a problem with the resolution if it excluded members from coming forward with nominations from the broader membership, such as it currently works now.
What are your thoughts?

Again, the full text of these replies is lengthy, so I've off-loaded it into this pdf file which you can download.


Mark Latham said...

There's an active discussion about this MEC Special Resolution on the ClubTread outdoor community message board:

S. Grant said...

An article about this has just appeared in the Georgia Straight:

The institution of a "Senior Manager, Governance", and the indications you ran into while exploring this matter strongly point to a board that is improperly influenced far more by MEC's management than by the members.

Obviously MEC directors are being boxed into toeing a party line, rather than representing the sometimes differing views of the people who elected them.

It's curious so many responding candidates used similar phrases to thank you for contacting them. It's also obvious that none of their candidate statements addressed the resolution, and I find that both odd and unacceptable.

Mark Latham said...

Thanks S. Grant for the Georgia Straight link. Sorry blogspot doesn't automatically make it clickable, so here's a clickable version:

Also I'd like to reiterate the comment I posted there:

The global financial meltdown was largely caused by a lack of accountability of elected leaders to voters, in corporations and in governments. The Special Resolution would diminish that accountability at MEC. It is not a governance improvement, nor an update, nor a reform -- rather, the opposite. I say this as a specialist in finance and governance ( For a proposal for actual reform at MEC, please see

Mark Latham said...

I have requested and received from MEC staff a copy of the 2012 Board of Directors Election Campaigning Guidelines. Here are some quotes:

"Failure to abide by these provisions or the Rules will be considered a violation of election policy and, as such, may result in the Candidate’s removal from the election."

"Any representations about a candidate’s qualifications or about MEC, including statements about MEC that may be made in the Candidate’s statement or any other form of written, verbal or online election material, whether produced or endorsed by the Candidate, must be verified in advance by MEC."

"Candidates must use their MEC email account and not their personal email address for the purpose of communicating with members."

"To ensure compliance with MEC Rules, it is mandatory that the Governance Office is included in all candidate/member email correspondence, and as such, will be automatically copied in any correspondence that is sent from a MEC candidate email address."

Mark Latham said...

Here are some quotes from the 2012 MEC Board of Directors Election Campaigning Guidelines regarding candidate communications about or to other candidates:

"Candidates will not campaign for or on behalf of, or against, any other candidate."

"A candidate must not endorse or indicate a preference for any other candidate."

"Referring to other candidates is not permitted by MEC Rules – therefore we recommend that you do not ‘reply all’ (i.e. include other candidates) when responding to member enquiries."

S. Grant said...


Thanks for obtaining the rules governing candidates. I was thinking I should ask for a copy, since MEC's Rules provide for doing so.

Some of those provisions are more shocking than others. If I read it correctly: ""Any representations about a candidate’s qualifications or about MEC, including statements about MEC that may be made in the Candidate’s statement or any other form of written, verbal or online election material, whether produced or endorsed by the Candidate, must be verified in advance by MEC." means I can't even speak to another person about any candidate without clearing it with MEC. Unbelievable. The arrogance needed to produce such a dictate is simply beyond belief. To me, this indicates there's something seriously awry.

Since the comments you and I, among others, have made online about candidates are violations of this policy, I wonder what the board plans to do about it?

In fact, this and the other provisions are so extraordinarily repressive it makes me suspect that behind it are people who are afraid of the members having all the relevant facts about their suitability for the board. There have been some extremely high walls constructed here.

I wonder how the board would handle a violation of their policies that are not violations of MEC's Rules?

As if it weren't possible, the full picture is even worse. The staff who police candidate email correspondence, and the Senior Manager, Governance, who supervises the board, report to the management. Not the board. So the people who have hands-on control of all this are in the management structure as opposed to the board which represents the member/owners.

These things confirm my worst fears about where the organization has gone.

Mark Latham said...

All candidates replied to my first question within 2 days, except Robert Campbell who replied after 7 days, adding: "I must apologize for lack of response - I have been locked out of the MEC server until this Monday."

Mark Latham said...

Here's an email I received from a fellow hiker I notified about this:

"The subtleties of the resolution escaped me until pointed out by yourself…and I have already voted. However, please add my name [to the Open Letter]."

And a similar case on this discussion board:

"You are correct: this is a badly-worded resolution. However I did not read it well enough to see the anti-democratic implications. Therefore, when I voted a month ago, I voted in favour of the resolution. Are there any steps I can take to reverse my earlier support of this?"

Mark Latham said...

Summary of Links:

- Open Letter to MEC Members

- Blog post: Mountain Equipment Co-op Proposes Screening Process for Board Candidates

- Facebook page: MEC Members for a Democratic Co-op

- Georgia Straight article 2012-03-19: Bid to update Mountain Equipment Co-op board election rules sparks debate

- VueWeekly article 2012-03-21: A Question of Democracy

- Online discussion at

- Online discussion at Canadian Canoe Routes

- MEC Guidelines for Candidates

- Candidates' replies to my questions

S. Grant said...

Well, the voting on the special resolution is now closed. We'll know the results at MEC's AGM on April 25.

I wonder what restrictions apply to candidates now that voting has ended?

I'm puzzled as to why, on the various discussion sites, blogs, and web pages where this matter has been discussed, almost no one has voiced support for the resolution other than some of the candidates in the current board election. Given the normally hyper-critical treatment of issues online, and that the MEC board, who presumably are not crazy people, obviously support the resolution, why have so few expressed agreement with them?

Surely people aren't afraid to speak up. Surely the MEC board isn't so out of touch that no one agrees with them. It's at least plausible that a roughly $250 million per year business should have a certain level of business expertise on the board.

Or is there agreement that the board provides leadership and vision, while the managers are hired for business skill? That MEC governance is more like a citizen democracy than a business? Can a "lay" board successfully guide such an organization, just as "lay" citizens populate our governments? If it can't, how do you get enough business expertise on a coop board without violating democratic fundamentals? Does everyone think MEC has done well enough up to this point without this measure, and does this prove or disprove that it can continue to do so? Do people possibly think MEC's problem is that there is too much business influence on the board?

Or is it just the approach? Did members resent being given only one side of the story, as though they were being taken for dummies? Were even members who may agree with the resolution angered by the fact the most serious effect of the resolution appeared to have been deliberately omitted from clear and specific mention? Have members become increasingly concerned about the direction of MEC and the board and this was just a flashpoint?

Hopefully the minimum benefits to come out of this will be that uncritical acceptance of what MEC has to say will be a thing of the past and MEC members will be more engaged in the organization.

Mark Latham said...

Vancity credit union members face similar issues to this MEC situation -- see my next post: @Vancity credit union election: Who I plan to vote for & why