West Shore columnist seeks upgrade to three per cent election

Zero value in an election with three per cent voter turnout says columnist G.E. Mortimore

What’s the value of an election in which only three per cent of eligible voters choose to cast ballots? Zero, in my opinion.

A minority ritual election of that kind is in progress at Coast Capital Savings credit union. A full slate of directors will be installed by acclamation. But a policy contest now under way could put some unexpected zing into this election.

If the ginger group working among the 500,000 members makes enough noise, it could raise the voting percentage to 10.

Who decides the amount the directors are paid? That’s the focus of a special resolution to which Coast Capital members are asked to vote yes or no.

Coast Capital is a financial co-operative, owned by its member-depositors. In most co-ops the owners – at least in theory – make such major decisions as directors’ pay.

But Coast Capital is an unusual case. In 2006 the directors recommended, and a majority of the three per cent agreed, that directors would set their own salaries. A belated hot argument over that decision now could push Coast Capital toward “democracy.”

Phil Embley, a Coast Capital member from Surrey, proposes that members once again determine the directors’ pay.

If 66 per cent of voters sign on to Embley’s special resolution by marking their ballots “for” rather than “against,” the members will regain control of pay packages. They have until closing-time April 16 to drop off their completed ballots at Coast Capital.

In the five years after the directors gained power to write their own ticket, their pay went up 379 per cent.

Embley said: “In 2011, Vancity (credit union) paid their chairman $60,700 while our chairman paid himself $164,140. Our directors’…pay is higher than any co-operative board in Canada…”

This is not about money-making efficiency. Most people agree that Coast Capital does a good banking job. Recently it went paperless – probably a smart management decision. In my local branch, the paper forms and their containing slots and counters disappeared. The place felt empty.

“Can you help me pay Hydro and Mastercard?” I asked a teller. “Sure,” she said. As it turned out, she didn’t know how to do that, but after some scratching around by computer, she figured it out.

“I hope they don’t make any more improvements,” I said.

Arguably, Coast Capital is rejecting co-op status by using three-per-cent-election results to strip members of the power to make such key decisions as no-paper and directors’ pay.

Co-ops are a life-saver. They give economic strength and protection. Their rules include these: One member, one vote; any profits are divided between member dividends and contributions to local enterprise and community well-being. Among co-op benefits are lower living costs and better job security.

Credit unions are one kind of co-op. The other kinds include producer co-ops, where the worker-owners manufacture or grow goods for sale; and consumer co-ops – clusters of stores where members get a discount. Those two can collaborate together, as in the global Mondragon co-op federation.

Co-ops offer a middle way between capitalism and socialist well-being, in tune with both. The NDP, formerly the CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) would be wise to take a serious look at co-ops within today’s mixed economy.

Some frozen co-ops have been captured by controlling cliques. Coast Capital members should ask themselves if they are in one of those.

• G.E. Mortimore is a longtime columnist with the Goldstream News Gazette.