A council which doesn't listen to its membership

Sir Winston Churchill once famously said, "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."  Alienation and resentment inevitably result when people feel their governors are not representing their interests or addressing the issues important to them.  Why are the members of PEO so disengaged that only 15 % of them vote?  Toronto's 2010 municipal mayoralty race saw only 51 % of eligible voters participating, and that was considered a crisis!  Read my article in the Kingston Whig-Standard here about voter alienation.

The problem with our council is three-fold, in my opinion: 
(1) Many of its members feel that there somehow is a conflict between protecting the public interest and serving the 80,000 members of the profession.  (That is complete nonsense.)
(2) Councillors feel the membership is not as wise and well-informed as they are, and hence, the membership's wishes should be secondary to the councillors' thinking, and
(3) Council does not believe it is there to represent the membership. 
   I heard these absurd arguments when I was last on council eighteen years ago, and it took a large dose of grass-roots democracy to correct them.

There is no conflict whatsoever between serving the public interest and operating a vibrant, member-directed profession!  In fact, we members know engineering better than any politician or lay appointee.  That is the very principle behind a self-governing profession!  We have never been accused of shirking our responsibilities.  I have never suggested PEO should be advocating for Ontario engineers.  That's OSPE's job!

Recent councils, in my opinion, have not demonstrated the wisdom or management skills we expect of them.  When Councillor Mike Hogan was purged from Council in April of 2012, the rule-book was swept aside, in what I think was a vindictive and shameful pursuit, which, in the end, cost him a legal bill estimated at thirty thousand dollars.  Hogan should not have behaved the way he did.  He deserved punishment.  But I think he was voicing the frustration and despair of the membership which elected him.  His behaviour, however, did not justify our council holding secret ballots, rejecting certain marked ballots, ignoring requests for a recorded vote, and, ultimately, removing a member who had been democratically elected by us.  Those irregularities triggered a hugely costly and divisive court challenge, which benefitted no one. 

As for managing the affairs and finances of the Association, well. . .  PEO is presently running a deficit, despite a 27-M$ budget!  Our deficit is in the vicinity of five million dollars!  Your fees will have to be increased to pay for this profligance.  (Oh, by the way, Council quietly got the government to change the Act last December so that it no longer needs members' approval to increase fees.)  No government has ever cured a spending addiction by increasing taxes!

Membership motions too often are shuffled off into bureaucratic oblivion.  My own motion at the 2011 AGM—that changes to our governance be suspended until approved by the membership in a referendum—was not debated because we "ran out of time".  It was forwarded to Council, where nothing further was done about it.  Membership resolutions seem to have little influence with our council.

The mistaken notion that Council is not there to serve our 80,000 members seems strongest among our government appointees (including the P.Eng. appointees).  Perhaps they feel that they represent the government, since that is who appointed them.  However, I don't recall the government ever convening the twelve LGAs, receiving reports from them, and giving them instructions!  Even worse, the government has shrugged when appointments have expired, and simply re-appointed many LGAs.  An elected councillor would have to face his electorate five times in succession to match that!  If it were intended for PEO council to represent the government and people of Ontario, all twenty-nine seats would be appointed!  The government itself has granted us self-regulation.  It is confident that our membership knows what is best for the profession, and our council's role is to serve that profession, consistent with offering the highest protection to the public we serve.

Questions?  Comments?  Feel free to contact me.