Friday, February 7, 2014

At last -- we have answers to the sanctions against the OCA

At long last, we have answers.

For several months, Ontario curlers have been left in the dark about the reasons the Canadian Curling Association has made the Ontario Curling Association a member not in good standing, causing the provinces curlers and curling clubs to be cut off from resources from the national body.

The situation has escalated to the point that the OCA has been given a deadline of Monday to offer an apology or face further sanctions in the form of a full suspension. That would mean, as I understand it, no curler representing Ontario would go on to a national championship.

However despite both these bodies being representatives of the curlers who pay the dues and support the game, neither side was ready to give a reason as to the problem.

But now we know.

And it is both simple and straightforward while at the same time complex. In some ways it’s shocking while in other ways, it’s really hard to believe that the situation has escalated to where it is over these issues.

At the heart of the matter is a large group of people who believe the OCA is dysfunctional and being improperly run. Documents obtained by your humble scribe include charges of poor administration, boorish behaviour by OCA directors and staff, improper treatment of sponsors, failure to react to issues on a timely basis, low public perception and possibly libelous statements being made by the OCA president.

The group includes members of other provincial and territorial associations as well as stakeholders and sponsors within Ontario who tried unsuccessfully to have the OCA’s executive director, Doug Bakes, removed at a meeting this summer. (He has since announced his retirement effective this June.)

The OCA executives, including president Ian McGillis and Bakes, have fired back claiming to be in control and so far refusing to apologize, a move that would start the process to Ontario being back in the good books.

It should be pointed out that I reached out to Bakes, McGillis and CCA CEO Greg Stremlaw prior to writing this blog. Bakes referred me to McGillis who declined to answer any questions. I got no response from Stremlaw, who I believe may be in Sochi. [UPDATE: Stremlaw contacted me from Sochi and declined to comment on the issue]

So the actual reason for the move to put the OCA as “member not in good standing” stems from a letter McGillis sent to the OCA board and voting members. In that correspondence, there were statements made against the CCA Board, member association presidents and external auditors, which the CCA says are inaccurate and defamatory.

What were the statements? I quote from one of the CCA documents provided which lists them as follows:

"Accounting principles were being compromised.” 
 “Only a questionable allocation of 2007 Edmonton Trial rights fees kept the bank from proceeding with bankruptcy and insolvency actions.” 
“The ACF was coerced into signing an accord at the 2011 Edmonton Brier.” 
“The CCA is able to exert a considerable amount of control and leverage at the NCC.” 
“Not really sure if Resby who’s perceived by many at the NCC table as a CCA plant, knows what reality is so how can his perception be taken seriously.” 
“I’d suggest that many of the recent actions with the OCA and our ED including Code of Conduct charges, Mrs. Todd’s group appearing in front of the OCA Board, Curl Manitoba’s brief to the OCA Executive are all CCA driven events.”

The CCA launched an investigation and could find no one who had any evidence that there was any truth to any of the above statements. That’s when it decided to move on to the next step. On Tuesday it gave the OCA a week to issue an apology or it would hold a special meeting of all member associations on March 11 at which there would be a vote to suspend the OCA.

The OCA says that it is awaiting information from its legal counsel before responding and it took an action of its own. Instead of forwarding the 2014 Affiliation fees of roughly $40,000 to the national body, it forwarded them to the Northern Ontario Curling Association to hold in trust until this issue is resolved. 

But the issue appears wider than this one situation. There are allegations that the overall operation of the OCA is in a shambles, that sponsorships have been lost, that the chance to get government money has been mishandled, that championships have been hobbled due to a lack of communication, that it’s not listened to the pulse of the province of curlers it’s said to represent, and that the OCA has not acted in a professional manner with other member associations.

That last allegation was brought out in a letter sent by a former Curl Manitoba president who described an acrimonious relationship between the OCA and the CCA evident at a recent National Curling Congress (the annual gathering of all the member associations). The charges include that one member of the OCA delegation was reading the paper during the CCA annual meeting; that one was not properly dressed for an evening function; that the Ontario delegation left the room during a CCA-led session that focused on four new Ontario curlers and a program that is a model for the rest of Canada.

What is clear is that there has been tension between the OCA and the CCA for some time. In some cases, the OCA and the Alberta Curling Federation (ACF) have been harsh critics of the CCA and some of that is clearly warranted.

As well, there appears to be a growing dissatisfaction with the overall operation of the OCA from within the province.

This past September a group of stakeholders that included former OCA presidents Fran Todd, Michele Gower and Kathy Ryan, the retired CEO of The Dominion (Ontario curling’s most important sponsor) George Cooke, another past sponsor, Brian Cowan of Teranet, Roy Weigand, the curling manager of the Scarboro G&CC and Gregg Truscott, who chaired the 2009 Ontario Seniors met with the OCA board of directors in a confidential meeting to address a long list of concerns.

Some of the most notable came from the sponsors. For example Cooke wrote that a few years ago, he expressed to the OCA board a desire to sponsor the Tankard (men’s provincial championship). No one followed up with him and only when he pushed the OCA did Dominion end up with the sponsorship.
As well, prior to Cooke’s retirement this year, he was able to extend all his curling sponsorships with every association in Canada except one – Ontario.

It was the same from Cowan, whose company sponsored a number of youth championships from 1996 – 2004. In 2005, he asked to extend the sponsorship for one year for $10,000 but was told by Bakes that a minimum of three years was required and that another sponsor was waiting in the wings, which Cowan says he learned later wasn’t true. Cowan described Bakes as being arrogant, disinterested in any extension and unwilling to discuss or negotiate.

Following the lengthy presentation, the OCA agreed it would respond within a month. When it failed to do so, Todd requested a Special General Meeting, a request that McGillis turned down.

Now it’s hard to let the CCA off with a free pass in all of this. It clearly has an agenda and is out to change the OCA or at least ask it to clean up its act. In one case it launched a code of conduct charge against Bakes by using his controversial answers on a survey that was clearly labeled confidential. However it seems to want to put an end to matters. Cutting off the curlers of Ontario may be the only way to get its message across but to do so while keeping them in the dark is wrong.

At present, it seems hard to get any responses out of the OCA's directors. Messages go unanswered and time and again, a response from McGillis seems to be late, past a deadline or awaiting a response from legal counsel or with an apology for tardiness (in fairness, it should be pointed out that all of the directors are volunteers with jobs and families). 

And so now the OCA sits at a crossroads. It must respond by Monday or set in motion an action by the CCA that could devastate Ontario curlers. Imagine winning the Ontario Senior or Wheelchair championship and then be told you won’t be allowed to go to the national final. Or imagine you’re a club (such as mine) that is interested in playing host to a national championship but you’re frozen out.

Ontario clearly needs change and it looks as if it’s going to get it. The question is whether it will initiate it on its own, or have it forced on it by an outside source.

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