Sunday, December 29, 2013

Why I joined the @Liberal_Party of #Canada #LPC

I'm a swing voter. At various times, I have voted Conservative, Liberal, NDP, and Green. We swing voters keep politicians on their toes, competing with each other to serve the public interest (or at least to present themselves that way). No party can take our votes for granted.

So I had never joined a political party in my life. Until this year. Why the change?

Democratic competition is essential for making elected leaders accountable to voters. But even though our political systems feature electoral competition, that doesn't seem effective enough to keep our leaders and governments loyal to the public interest. Corruption of varying degrees seems pervasive and persistent, from the Liberals' sponsorship scandal ten years ago to the Conservatives' senate expenses scandal now.

Solving this problem has been my main occupation for the past 17 years, focusing first on corporations (where shareowners elect directors), then broadening to include democracies. As a financial economist, my main contribution is to design a system for voters to pay information providers (such as journalists), creating stronger incentives for journalists to serve the interests of a voter community. Successful tests of this system are reported in the paper Experiments in Voter Funded Media.

Designing a solution is one thing. Getting it implemented is quite another. Those in power are naturally reluctant to shift power from themselves to voters (which is what happens when voters become better informed). So it is difficult to change the system from the outside.

When a friend whom I respect asked me to help him run for election as a Liberal member of Canada's parliament, I soon agreed to do so, but did not commit to any specific type of help. It was only later, as I tried to understand the current dynamics of Canadian federal politics, that I saw a potential alignment of my public interest reform work with joining the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) myself.

To regain Canadian voters' trust after the sponsorship scandal, the LPC needs to show they (we) are serious about reducing corruption and strengthening accountability. We also need to propose some innovative policy ideas to distinguish ourselves from the other parties (e.g. see this perspective in the Globe & Mail). A new internet-based voter information and engagement strategy could help fulfill these needs.

There are other reasons why the centrist LPC may fit my political orientation better than other parties. I was fortunate to grow up in a home where both my parents cared about politics and public policy. Best of all was their wide range of views, since Mom was NDP while Dad was Conservative. (And they stayed married for life!) I learned to appreciate that there are intelligent people in all our major political parties who are sincerely trying to serve the public interest. I see them all as colleagues in that endeavour.

The issue of democratic accountability can appeal to voters across the political spectrum. A centrist party may be in the best position to attract swing voters from other parties by taking the lead on such an issue.

Of course, voters and party members must try to ensure that an elected party actually delivers on its campaign platform. Backsliding has long been the norm:
"As soon as the new leaders have attained their ends, as soon as they have succeeded (in the name of the injured rights of the anonymous masses) in overthrowing the odious tyranny of their predecessors and in attaining to power in their turn, we see them undergo a transformation which renders them in every respect similar to the dethroned tyrants. Such metamorphoses as these are plainly recorded throughout history." (Michels [1911] p. 114)
When I quoted the above passage last year in a paper We Want Our Co-ops Back (p. 11), I added:
"Therefore in addition to supporting challengers, it is even more important to change a co-op's rules in ways that strengthen a competitive democracy, and reduce the entrenchment of the current leaders. Ideally, we members would like to elect directors that will help implement such reforms. So we should push candidates toward platforms that include reform, and hold them accountable to their promises."
As Lawrence Lessig said eloquently in his February 2013 TED talk (about 11 minutes in): It's not that democratic reform is the most important issue. But it's the first issue -- the one we need to solve in order to solve the more important issues like environmental policy. Although money-driven corruption is not as bad in Canada as in the USA, the power of well-funded narrow interests to misinform voters and influence politicians is a big problem here too.

So I'm heading for the LPC Biennial Policy Convention in Montreal, February 20-23, 2014.

BTW Canadians get tax credits for federal political donations. Your first $400 donated per calendar year only costs you $100. You can do this once by December 31, and then again in January -- donate to LPC at or call (888) 542-3725.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

@modo_carcoop Special General Meeting had a close call 15-14 vote #coop #democracy

This is my report on the Special General Meeting of Modo the Car Co-op, held recently on September 23, 2013. We voted on eight resolutions proposed by the Modo Board, for changing the co-op's rules:
  • Resolution 1: Correction of oversights or typographical errors; clarification; and removal of obsolete or redundant items
  • Resolution 2: Create a Nominations Committee and define its accountabilities
  • Resolution 3: Create alternatives to in-person voting at annual meetings for elections
  • Resolution 4: Create an option to use alternative voting systems in elections
  • Resolution 5: Permit the co-op to pay interest on members’ shares
  • Resolution 6: Permit an organization to become a Business Member of the co-op, and to appoint a Delegate to represent it
  • Resolution 7: Authorize the Board to invest funds with reference to an Investment Policy
  • Resolution 8: Change the name of the co-op to Modo Co-operative
Brief Summary of Meeting:
  • We passed each of the 8 resolutions by more than the required 2/3 super-majority vote.
  • On Resolution 7, I proposed an amendment to require a member approval vote on future changes to the Investment Policy. Amendments are decided by simple majority vote. With 14 in favour and 15 opposed, we did not adopt my amendment. We then unanimously approved the Board's original Resolution 7.
  • There was significant opposition to Resolution 6 (letting businesses that use Modo become voting members of Modo), but it passed by a vote of 25 in favour, 7 opposed.
Discussion of Resolutions 3 and 7:

Monday, September 16, 2013

#CIRA election: Why I'm voting for @KevinSMcArthur, Jim Grey, Ryan Merkley, Ruth Corbin

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) is holding its annual board election. I'm voting for these candidates:
Members' Slate:
- Kevin McArthur

Nomination Committee Slate:
- Jim Grey
- Ryan Merkley
- Ruth Corbin
If you're a CIRA member, you can vote Sept 16 - 23 (deadline: 11am Pacific time Sept 23). If you have a .ca domain, you can join CIRA for free at (and vote next year).

How I chose who to vote for:

I based my decision mainly on how the candidates participated in the election forum.

I especially like Kevin McArthur's advocacy of board transparency, which I strongly support as a way of increasing accountability of CIRA to its members and to the Canadian public. I voted for Kevin in 2012 and 2011 for similar reasons.

As for the Nomination Committee's candidates, my preference tipped toward Grey and Merkley for their replies to the forum question on what to do with CIRA's financial surplus, and toward Corbin for participating in the forum and not giving responses that I found disappointing.

How to improve CIRA's election process:

There is not enough voter engagement, nor enough sources of insightful assessments of the candidates. (There should be much more insight available than my blog post above, but if it's out there I can't find it.)

I have been recommending various improvements to CIRA, so instead of repeating them I'll link to them:

1. The latter half of this blog post last year.

2. The paper We Want Our Co-ops Back.

Friday, September 13, 2013

@modo_carcoop Investment Policy should be approved by Members #coop #democracy

Two weeks ago I blogged about the upcoming (Sept 23) Special General Meeting of Modo the Car Co-op, to vote on the Modo Board's proposed rule changes. I supported Resolution 2 (to create a nominations committee) and Resolution 3 (to enable voting via internet) as changes that would strengthen member democracy.

Recently I studied Resolution 7, which would authorize the Board to invest Modo funds with reference to an investment policy. It would change the existing Rule 10.02:
"Without the approval of the Members by special resolution, the Directors shall not invest a total of more than $25,000 of the funds of the Association in securities or classes of securities other than those in which trustees are permitted to invest trust funds under the Trustee Act."
To become:
"The funds of the Association shall be invested in accordance with an Investment Policy approved by the Directors that defines permitted investments and sets investment limits for permitted investments." [emphasis added]
To maintain democratic accountability to us Modo members on how our accumulated funds are invested, I recommend changing the word "Directors" to "Members" in the above proposed new rule. [Update 2013-09-20: amended wording in second comment below] So the Board could propose future changes to the investment policy, but those changes would need to be approved by a vote of the members.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

@modo_carcoop meeting Sept 23 to vote on rule changes #coop #democracy

Vancouver-based Modo the Car Co-op is having a Special General Meeting of members on Monday September 23, to vote on eight resolutions proposed by the Modo board, for changing the co-op's rules:

  • Resolution 1: Correction of oversights or typographical errors; clarification; and removal of obsolete or redundant items
  • Resolution 2: Create a Nominations Committee and define its accountabilities
  • Resolution 3: Create alternatives to in-person voting at annual meetings for elections
  • Resolution 4: Create an option to use alternative voting systems in elections
  • Resolution 5: Permit the co-op to pay interest on members’ shares
  • Resolution 6: Permit an organization to become a Business Member of the co-op, and to appoint a Delegate to represent it
  • Resolution 7: Authorize the Board to invest funds with reference to an Investment Policy
  • Resolution 8: Change the name of the co-op to Modo Co-operative
Full details (text of new rules, reasons etc) are accessible only to Modo members (like me) logged in at

As you can see from my posts on this blog for the past year and a half, I've been very critical of the boards of some large co-ops, which have persuaded their members to approve rule changes that shift power from members to the board. The boards have not described it to members as a power transfer, but in substance that's what it is. The changes undermine Co-operative Principle #2 -- democratic member control -- and open the door to corrupt abuse of power by boards. Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is a prime example.

So I'm happy to report that, as far as I can tell, the rule changes proposed by Modo's board would strengthen, not weaken, member democracy.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Will #FICOMBC support @Vancity Credit Union board entrenchment? #democracy

Today I submitted this letter to the B.C. Financial Institutions Commission (FICOM), with my comments on their draft Governance Guideline for Credit Unions. Main points:

Accountability requires competition in board elections.
=> So boards should not be able to disqualify competitors based on subjective assessments.

Lack of accountability opens the door to corruption.
=> Only competitive elections can prevent favouritism in the use of members' funds.

Board control of information can bias elections.
=> Boards should not be allowed to put their recommendations on board election ballots.
=> Without that, Vancity members would have elected Lisa Barrett instead of Allen Garr.

Please don't let the foxes design the hen house.
=> The public interest should take precedence over lobbying by credit union insiders.

Will next week's B.C. election have any effect on FICOM's final Governance Guideline? Just asking...

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Reports on member rebellion @Coast_Capital AGM

At the Coast Capital Savings Credit Union's Annual General Meeting of members on April 30, it was announced that members had voted over 79% to take back control of directors' pay. The board had recommended voting "NO", so members have learned to be skeptical of board recommendations. Two recent write-ups on this:

- Press release from the proponent (Coast Capital Compensation Watch)

- Vancouver Sun article

For background and context:

- My article in the Vancouver Observer: We want our co-ops back

- Posts on Coast Capital in this blog

Saturday, April 27, 2013

@MEC slides from #democracy to #oligarchy -- AGM report

Mountain Equipment Corporation Cooperative held its 2013 Annual General Meeting on April 25. Unfortunately, the outreach efforts of us 600 MEC Members for a Democratic Co-op were not enough to counter the MEC board's control of information flowing to members. The board's resolution on rule changes passed by a vote of 91% to 9%. For an overview of how the vote was biased, see my article in the Vancouver Observer: "We want our co-ops back"

So in addition to last year's new power to reject director candidates from standing for election, the board can now reject any member resolution for any reason, without submitting it to member vote. The new rule changes reduce the board's accountability to members in several other ways detailed in my March 14 blog post.

Many members were shocked to see how quickly the board took advantage of its new power by rejecting 2013 director election nominee Anders Ourom. His qualifications include:
  • MEC Director (1981-1986, 1988-1992)
  • MEC Board Chair (1989-1991)
  • President, Climbers' Access Society of B.C. (1995-2004)
  • Lawyer, Advising Societies and Co-operatives (1995 - present)
  • Legal Advisor, MEC Rules Revision Projects (1997-1998, 2001-2002)
Apparently the board decided that MEC members needed to be benevolently protected from having the option to vote for Anders this year. In the AGM's Reports Q&A section, I stepped up to the mike and asked this question:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stand up for member #democracy: attend AGMs @MEC @Coast_Capital @Vancity

You can help reclaim member democracy by attending these upcoming Annual General Meetings:

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC):
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Doors open at 5:30pm
Meeting at 6:00pm
Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre
181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver
Please bring your MEC membership card or 2 pieces of ID

Coast Capital Savings Credit Union:
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Registration and light refreshments from 4:30pm to 5pm
Meeting begins at 5pm
Executive Airport Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre
7311 Westminster Highway, Richmond, BC

Vancity Credit Union:
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Registration at 6pm
Meeting at 7pm
Italian Cultural Centre, 3075 Slocan Street, Vancouver

(Vancity director election voting ends April 26. Here's why I'm voting for Williams, Barrett & Yaron.)

Reclaiming member democracy in co-ops and credit unions can be a first step toward making our elected leaders accountable to voters in corporations and democracies too -- see recent Vancouver Observer article "We want out co-ops back."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Oppose biased election ballot @Vancity - vote for Williams, Barrett, Yaron

A dominant majority of the Vancity board are using their control of information flowing to Vancity members, to tighten their grip on power over the credit union. Taking advantage of voters who are too busy to search for other info sources, the controlling group ensures that their recommendations are the only info conveniently available to members. I have documented this in a series of posts since April 2012 -- see

Notably this year, one of the board's "recommended" candidates -- Bob Williams -- is not a member of the controlling majority (details in this report, from page 8). So I plan to vote for him. Challengers to the dominant group can help improve democratic competition and thus accountability to members.

I also plan to vote for Lisa Barrett and Gil Yaron, for the same pro-democracy reasons why I voted for them last year.

Vancity members can vote by Friday April 26, via mail or online.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Co-op #democracy reform movement growing @MEC @Coast_Capital @Vancity

Co-op members are waking up to reclaim their democratic rights.

Mountain Equipment Co-op:

Over 400 500 members of MEC have now signed an open letter "The C is for Cooperative, Not Corporation", protesting the MEC board's misleading labelling of a resolution that would transfer control of director nominations and member resolutions to the board. Members can vote on it until March 28, at I recently posted this analysis with voting recommendations -- please vote NO on the board's Resolution #1.

Coast Capital:

In a similar push-back, 438 members of Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (a financial co-op) have signed a petition demanding a vote to reverse a 2007 rule change that allowed their directors to decide their own pay, which has grown rapidly since then -- see the member-organized website Coast Capital Compensation Watch. Members can vote on the resolution from now through April 16, on paper ballots by mail or online at > Log in > Account Services > Online Voting. (Please vote YES.)

Technology Credit Union:

Last year, the board of California's Tech CU proposed converting it into a mutual savings bank, a move that has been criticized (e.g. here) as enriching directors at members' expense. Fortunately, a campaign to alert members to the downside resulted in their defeating the proposal by a 77% vote.

Vancity Credit Union:

In April 2012, the Vancity board of directors elections were criticized for being undemocratic -- see especially the article's comments. Although other candidates can run for election, the board's recommended candidates are listed first on the ballot, in bold, with the word "recommended" -- my analysis here.

Vancity's 2013 board election is next month.

We Want Our Co-ops Back!:

Last year I wrote a report proposing reforms for these democratic deficits, and emailed it to the boards of MEC and Vancity. But judging from our resulting correspondence, they seem unwilling to restore accountability to members.

So more members are getting concerned about the trend, and seeking to reverse it. Last week I published an article in the Vancouver Observer, citing the decline in accountability of elected leaders as a major cause of the 2008 financial crisis. Co-ops can become the starting point for a democratic reform movement that can eventually empower us to also reclaim our corporations and our governments.

We are organizing -- please email me (mark[at] to join us in re-establishing Co-op Principle #2 -- Democratic Member Control:

"Co-operatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. Men and women serving as elected representatives are accountable to the membership."

Monday, March 18, 2013

@MEC director election endorsements: David, David & David

Members are voting in the Mountain Equipment Co-op board of directors election until March 28, at Here's how I plan to vote and why:

Board of Directors (vote for up to 3):

1. David Goldsmith
2. David Wartman
3. David Wexler


Published today in Vancouver Observer: We want our co-ops back @MEC @Coast_Capital

Today (2013-03-18) the Vancouver Observer news website published my opinion piece "We want our co-ops back".

It describes how the boards of Mountain Equipment Co-op and Coast Capital Savings have been changing the rules in ways that shift power from members to boards. This undermines the accountability of elected leaders to voters -- the same trend that caused our 2008 financial crisis.

But we can reverse the trend -- see how in the Vancouver Observer article.

[BTW the above linked article is a 2-page overview, partly based on my 24-page in-depth report with the same title but capitalized: "We Want Our Co-ops Back". Sorry for any confusion but I love that title!]

Thursday, March 14, 2013

@MEC Vote NO on Mountain Equipment Co-op Resolution #1

Time is running out for us MEC members to defend our democratic rights by rejecting the Board's proposed Resolution #1. To understand what's at stake, look at what happened last year:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

@MEC @Vancity #CIRA boards unwilling to restore accountability to members

Last year, I studied the trend toward violating the second fundamental principle of co-operatives -- democratic member control -- as co-ops become large. As examples, I focused on three organizations: Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), Vancity Credit Union, and the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. (CIRA, which manages the .ca domain, is not formally a co-op but faces similar issues of accountability.)

I wrote a detailed exposé of how these organizations' boards have been changing the rules in ways that shift power to themselves by reducing their accountability to members, while maintaining a facade of democracy -- see We Want Our Co-ops Back at Last September I announced the first draft on this blog and on Twitter, and emailed it to all three boards, inviting feedback. Here I'll report how they have responded so far.

To make it easier for them to give at least a partial response in the near term, in December I suggested that they focus on just two practical reform questions:
1. Do you plan to create a year-round online member forum?
2. Do you plan to create a competition for informing members, in which members vote to allocate award funds?
For both these questions: If so, when? If not, why not?
Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC):

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

@Coast_Capital credit union members' resolution to regain control of director pay

Over 400 members of Coast Capital Savings credit union have sent petitions to require a member vote, on a resolution to regain control of director compensation. Ballots will be sent to all members on March 21, with voting from March 22 to April 16, 2013.

More info:
Congrats and thanks to Phil Embley for alerting and mobilizing Coast Capital members!

This is the latest event in a broad trend of elected leaders reducing their accountability to voters, and voters pushing back to increase accountability. See "We Want Our Co-ops Back" at for developments at Vancity Credit Union and Mountain Equipment Co-op. Also my earlier post Tech Credit Union members' revolution.