Democracy and the value of co-operation: An open letter to MEC members

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Members of MEC are reacting to a proposal to give its board control over the co-op's elections.

The board of directors of Mountain Equipment Co-op has introduced a Special Resolution, requiring approval by at least 75 per cent of voting members, that seeks to give the board power to choose which candidates appear on the nomination ballot according to criteria that the board itself defines. We are writing on behalf of scores of concerned MEC members across Canada, and we ask that all MEC members please read the following before deciding how to vote.

Why we care

Along with 3.3 million other members, we don't just shop at MEC stores as consumers. When we step through the doors of our local MEC, we aren't just looking for a new backpack, climbing shoes or tent -- we're also there as part owners of the Co-op. And the fact that MEC is a co-op, that it represents a different way of doing business, is a big part of why we support it.

Mountain Equipment Co-op's members have made it what it is. Unlike other businesses that are primarily concerned with turning a profit for their shareholders, MEC exists solely to serve its members and to provide them with the gear to enjoy the outdoors. And as a member-owned co-operative, just by virtue of owning a share to make a purchase at MEC, members have the right to vote at elections and decide the direction of the Co-op. Because of the flexibility its co-op status affords and because of its members' support, MEC has been repeatedly recognized for leadership in reducing environmental impacts and making progress in ethically sourcing its products.

To us, MEC's democratic governance structure represents an inspiring glimpse into just how different things could be. If more of our economy were run democratically, attaining a truly just, sustainable, and equitable world would be that much closer to reality.

Let members decide

We believe that the members of MEC can and should choose the candidates who will best represent them, as members now do -- not the board. We believe that the people who elect the board should define the criteria for candidates, first by nominating members that would be great directors, and then by voting for them. We think all of this should take place in the context of an open and transparent nomination and election process. In fact, we think that board elections at MEC should be among the most inspiring, participatory, open, and transparent elections in all of Canada.

Further, we believe that the change proposed by the board creates a serious conflict of interest for current board members. If the Special Resolution passes, it would become possible to stack the board with like-minded members, and to shut out anyone who thinks differently than the current board does. Regardless of how we feel about our current representatives, that's not an appropriate power for democratically elected directors.

Instead, we believe that MEC will thrive with a diversity of views, opinions, backgrounds, ideas, and desires represented on the board. Variety is also important because MEC members are all unique; the more diverse the board, the greater the likelihood that more of the Co-op's 3.3 million members are accurately represented.

Unfortunately, this Resolution doesn't foster diversity. It doesn't set a good example for how a member-owned co-op should be run. And it doesn't allow the people who are best able to decide who they would like to be represented by to choose their own representatives. Instead, it replaces the desires of members with the desires of the board, and it downgrades members from active participants in the co-op to mere consumers of its products.

That's not why we're members of the Co-op. We think MEC can do better than shifting power from three million members to just nine board members, and we ask all other members that feel the same way to go to www.mec.ca/election and vote "no" to the Special Resolution.

Signed,

To see an up-to-date list of the signatories, and to add your name, visit www.democraticcoop.ca.

Dave Bleakney (National Union Representative, CUPW), Ottawa ON
Michael Byerley (Former Team Leader, MEC Calgary), Calgary AB
Brigette DePape (Rogue Page), Ottawa ON
David Eby, Vancouver BC
Abby Lippmann (Professor Emerita, McGill), Montreal QC
Judy Rebick (author and activist), Toronto ON
Cathy Holtslander, Saskatoon SK
Yuill Herbert, Tatamagouche NS
Meghan McCarthy, St. Johns NL
Malcolm Boothroyd, Whitehorse YK
Sonia Grant, Halifax NS
Amara Possian, Toronto ON
Tasha Peters, Ottawa ON
Karen Rooney, Saskatoon SK
Cameron Fenton, Montreal QC
Marie Bencze, Kingston ON
Ellen Quigley, Saskatoon SK
Tamara Micner, Vancouver BC
Amanda Hachey, Moncton NB
Monique Woolnough, Toronto ON
Natasha Nancekivell, Toronto ON
Roddy Doucet, Montreal QC
Valerie Zink, Regina SK
Hazel Corcoran, Calgary AB
Dru Oja Jay, Montreal QC
Tim McSorley, Montreal QC
Dawn Paley, Vancouver BC
Jesse Freeston, Montreal QC
Dana Holtby, Montreal QC
Emily Eaton, Regina SK
Julie Strand Offerdal, Montreal QC
Omar Bickell, Montreal QC
Maude Prud'homme, Carleton-sur-Mer QC
Fuad Abboud, Calgary AB
Peter Garden, Saskatoon SK
Melissa McCabe, Bar Harbour ME
Tracey Mitchell, Saskatoon SK
Alexander Oster, Montreal QC
August Coombs, Tatamagouche NS
Martin Lukacs, Montreal QC
Rachel Engler-Stringer (PhD), Saskatoon SK
Alexander Zaganas, Burnaby BC
David Lowe, Vancouver BC
Fred Cutler, Vancouver BC
Hiromi Miyawaki, Vancouver BC
John Sehmer, Vancouver BC
John Spouge, Vancouver BC
Kevin Torvik, Delta BC
Mark Latham, Vancouver BC
Naoya Makino, Vancouver BC
Nelly Piechocki, Vancouver BC
Errol Sharpe, Halifax NS
Holly Nazar, Montreal QC
Bradley Coleman, Vancouver BC
Ruby Mawira, Vancouver BC
Svetla Turnin, Montreal QC
Joanna Brown, Moncton, NB
David Mitchell, Regina SK
Nik Barry-Shaw, Montreal QC
Rebecca Foon, Montreal QC
Daniel Simeone, Montreal QC
Len Goff, Vancouver BC

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