Equestrian Canada’s updated governance was introduced in 2015 and has been a major problem from the beginning. At the time, stakeholders voiced concerns that the new structure did not reflect the important role of industry volunteers and experts. EC leadership assured everyone that their concerns were misplaced and EC would continue to be “volunteer driven and staff implemented.” Five years after its launch, the areas that were predicted to be a concern have indeed created serious challenges.
Operations vs. Volunteers
The previous structure of EC relied on over 100 councils and committees to review and approve technical subjects and generally keep the business of EC moving forward. The structure, which at first blush would seem surprisingly large, reflected the expansive organization EC is in representing eight FEI sports, several non-FEI sports, Recreation, Breeds & Industry, plus a body where Provincial & Territorial Organizations could meet. Many of those groups could easily be an organization in themselves.
Representing multiple facets of the equestrian industry at once did result in challenges with many people attending meetings making it difficult for decisions to be made. The format did, however, take advantage of all the expertise in the industry and reflect the diverse nature of the association that is responsible for far more than a typical sport federation.
One of the many changes to the structure of EC was to eliminate the four Council structure: Sport, Recreation, Breeds & Industry and Provinces (the latter being composed of PTSO presidents). The move was meant to remove a governing layer and streamline the decision making process by placing more responsibility with EC’s staff and less with volunteers. While this is, in fact, the standard for how not-for-profit organizations are supposed to be run, it requires that the staff have the necessary scope of technical industry knowledge, which has not been the case. In the absence of that knowledge, it might be expected that staff would contact industry experts to get their input, but this has also not been the case.
This problem was confirmed by former board member Beth Underhill who chose not to run for another term.
“The current structure gives the CEO [Yves Hamelin] a lot of power and he has taken that latitude to make some key decisions without informing the board. The board and the operational committees have expressed the need for greater communication from the CEO, but little has changed.”
Underhill was also concerned with the lack of input from experts within the industry.
“This disconnect is particularly concerning since neither the CEO nor the High Performance Director have any experience in the horse industry. The lack of equestrian knowledge could be overlooked if there was more of a culture of collaboration with industry experts who populate the various committees and have decades of experience. Stakeholders assume that the operational committees [editor’s note: such as Jumping, Dressage, or Eventing committees] have significant input in areas of their expertise, but this is often not the case. This has become a source of frustration among committee members who feel that their time and professional skillsets are undervalued.”
These sentiments are echoed by Mike Lawrence who resigned from Category A in part from frustration with how EC leadership works for the industry.
“The previous committee structure used to compliment and support EC staff, but that’s no longer the case. Committee members now feel frustrated and ignored and wonder why they should spend many hours in meetings if their suggestions are going to be disregarded.”
Lawrence has a suggestion for how this situation might be resolved: “As it stands, everything has to run by the CEO but it would be hard for a non-horse person to make judgement calls on technical issues. Instead, decisions should be made at the discipline level and then support staff should work with the committees for their input and then implement those decisions professionally. EC needs to lean on the committees with the experts and give them authority to make decisions.”
Voters & Committees
The removal of the right for sport license holders, PTSO members, and the now defunct direct members to have a direct say in EC’s board and by-laws continues to be an issue. The 90,000 Registered Participants who make up this industry have lost their voice, and the now 27 voting members who represent their interests don’t feel as though they can affect any change.
“According to the Terms of Reference, the roll of category members is only to vote on by-laws and vote in directors,” noted Lawrence. “The perception is that the categories are there to advocate for the stakeholders, but that’s not their mandate and not how they are being treated by EC. Stakeholders deserve better and should have those people advocating for them, but there is nothing that allows them to. Their rolls are limited to just the two functions.”
EC president, Meg Kreuger, addressed this issue at the 2020 AGM last night.
“This spring, it was determined by the board that one of the biggest negative factors we are facing with our governance structure immediately is the confusion that is caused by the category voting system.”
Earlier this year, the governance committee presented to the board a revised voting member structure, but the board determined that there was not enough time to implement the changes in advance of the AGM. Instead, starting this October, the newly-elected board will commence a 10-12 month assessment project to review the structure with the voting members to see what changes need to be implemented at the 2021 AGM.
In general, poor communication continues to be the theme at Equestrian Canada.
“When there is an ineffective governance structure, ineffective communication also increases, as does frustration,” noted Kreuger during the AGM acknowledging the calls for greater communication on all levels.
In response, Kreuger mentioned a new communications policy that may be implemented shortly.
“The plan maps out the various stakeholders involved with EC, what we need to communicate to each group, how that best should be done and what methods that should be done with, and who is responsible within the organization,” said Kreuger.
The new communication plan will be presented to the board in the next couple of months.
Accountability & Transparency
In 2015 when the Bylaws overhaul was approved and put into place, Equestrian Canada stated:
“The end result was a collective belief that these By-laws and Articles of Continuance represent a framework from which EC can be repositioned as a leading equestrian and equine federation, premised on our core values of respect, diversity, inclusivity, service, excellence, and volunteerism.”
Five years later, the framework has warped and the community continues to struggle with governance, communication and finances (more on the latter in another article).
While Canada’s Not for Profit Act was cited several times during the 2020 AGM as the reason for the current voting and governance structure, the Act was intended to better serve and provide greater accountability and transparency to an organization’s stakeholders.
Instead, EC chose a governance format that removes both, and in doing so increased the risk of becoming irrelevant in the eyes of the very individuals they are meant to serve.