Thursday, December 3, 2015

An Insider's View of the CAMRA South Fraser Situation

I have to let everyone know I am currently involved with the Campaign for Real Ale of BC as president of the Powell River Branch which also gives me a seat on the CAMRA BC Executive. Since 2011 I have held a seat on the CAMRA BC Executive representing either CAMRA Vancouver or Powell River which has given me a bird's eye view of what has occurred with the CAMRA South Fraser branch. The views put forward here are mine, and not sanctioned by CAMRA BC in any way, but things from my insider's perspective.
Before I get started here on the subject of the temporary, and I stress temporary, suspension of operations of the South Fraser branch of CAMRA BC, I want to just put it out there that we need to remember that this is just about craft beer.

So take a deep breath, relax and let us put things into perspective here.

This is not about finding a cure for cancer, fighting ISIS or about eliminating world hunger nor has anyone been put out on the street or lost their ability to feed themselves or their family.

No one from the CAMRA BC side of things has made disrespectful personal comments about those involved in CAMRA South Fraser nor made claims of intentional wrong doing.

Much has actually been done to insulate and protect those involved with the SF executive and that is probably the main reason the issues have not been common knowledge.

No one has been "thrown under the bus," to quote one of the tweets I saw out there related to this situation. People need to take responsibility for their actions or lack of actions in relation to their current situation, including myself and the rest of the BC executive.

From my perspective, the SF executive did not do a lot to help themselves. According to CAMRA BC president, Ari Dressler, they did not respond to multiple requests, "to provide budgets, minutes, financials and membership information".  They also did not help themselves by not representing themselves at the last BC Executive meeting after they had been put on notice from the BC president and the subject of CAMRA South Fraser had been put on the agenda.

Maybe there are valid and compelling reasons why these requests were not fulfilled and representation was not present at the last meeting, but I have not heard the reasons why.

And, on the flip side, if the BC executive acted differently and took more control early on in the branch's existence, the branch may have traveled down a different path and grown into a fully functioning and healthy branch of CAMRA BC.

On November 23rd, Dressler, announced, "that the CAMRA BC Executive has taken the difficult decision to suspend the South Fraser Branch of CAMRA BC until a vote can be held at our AGM (you can read the entire announcement here).

As a member of the BC Executive for the past five years, and having been there since Day One of the South Fraser branch, I can tell you this decision came after quite some debate, a debate that goes back over two years and three BC executives.

The decision was a difficult one but the difficult decision had to be made.

I know, in some circles, emotions are running high and people are going on the offensive to protect themselves or their friends. I get that and I get that everyone is entitled to their opinion and have the right to voice them, as long as those opinions are not attacking individuals or offensive.

I will put it out there that many of the negative comments on social media and complaints via e-mail are based on partial information, partial truths and a few bizarre and borderline delusional interpretations on what has occurred since 2013.

Quite simply, since inception, the South Fraser's branch executive teams, and there have been more than one executive team involved, have put CAMRA BC in a position of being in violation of  the Society Act of BC which jeopardizes the entire society's reputation and existence.

The CAMRA South Fraser branch executive has also, on an almost-continuous basis since inception, been in contravention of CAMRA operating procedures and policies, CAMRA BC by-laws and have not responded, whether intentionally or not, to numerous directives and requests from the CAMRA BC Executive to comply.

This branch has been a disaster on the executive level since the early days when the original executive disintegrated, with the majority quitting due to internal conflict, within the first two months of existence.The executives who have been dealing with SF since the first AGM were dealt a difficult hand as the branch's foundations were already unsteady, but from what I have seen, there has been little done to repair even the most basic issues, such as organizing a functioning bank account and keeping a current and accurate membership list.

This is not to say that those who have been involved with the CAMRA SF executive are not good people, lovers of what CAMRA is about and dedicated supporters of the craft beer revolution.

I really do really do believe that most, if not all, are good people.

This is not to say that these same people are banned from holding CAMRA executive positions again at either the branch or the provincial level.

If they are members in good standing, they have the right to run in yearly elections.

That is not what is at play here and no one has made those accusations.

What is clear is that many involved in steering the SF executive were not able, for various reasons, to fulfill the difficult and complex duties, obligations and responsibilities of running a branch of CAMRA BC, despite guidance, advice, support, direction, directives and eventually official warnings.

Running a CAMRA branch is not an easy task.

I have both run the largest branch in the society and started a branch from scratch in a city where 99% of the people thought CAMRA had something to do with photography.

It is not all about organizing fun beer events, sending out a few tweets and Facebook posts.

It is a lot about dealing with people, being responsible and accountable. It is about being organized, keeping necessary records and managing finances while operating within the structural framework of the Society Act and CAMRA BC by-laws, policies and procedures.

It is about dealing with people and coping with, on some level, an-almost constant state of conflict while members are calling your integrity, intelligence and motivations into question.

And it is about putting in hours and hours of volunteer time.

Much blame has been heaped on the CAMRA BC executive for not providing support and guidance to the new SF branch.

I can tell you that I started the Powell River branch just weeks prior to the SF branch being approved and we received great support. We are now well over 100 members and growing quickly. South Okanagan is not even a year old and they are solid as granite, and if you speak to their executive, they will tell you they have received all the support they have needed to launch their branch, which is an active branch and one that represents itself well in the CAMRA BC executive.

So I do not think the problems lie completely with CAMRA BC as some have put forth.

This suspension, or probably a better term, hiatus, had to happen. It was done for the protection of the South Fraser members, and the protection of the society as a whole.

SF members should be concerned that their branch has never, and I stress, NEVER, had a functioning bank account.

Not quite true as apparently right now they do have a bank account but have no access to it and have seemed incapable of finding a solution.

The SF members should be concerned that their executive have not payed CAMRA BC its portion of membership dues - $5 from every individual and joint membership goes to CAMRA BC in order to allow it to operate and look after the administrative side of things.

The SF members should be concerned, especially as we are coming up to AGM season, that despite repeated requests for it, no comprehensive membership list has been provided to CAMRA BC.

These are just a few of the most worrisome things, but the list of issues is long and goes back to the branch's roots.

Having said that, the current executive have done some great things building CAMRA's profile in the region but as I said, events and tweets are not the whole of what a branch is supposed to be doing. I am not sure if they have grown the membership beyond what was inherited from Vancouver when the SF branch was formed because there is no current membership list to refer to.

This is not a CAMRA Vancouver power grab as suggested by some on social media and beyond.

CAMRA Vancouver has been quite vocal in that they have no interest in absorbing the branch.  They are doing so short term to give SF members a place to go. CAMRA Vancouver president, David Perry, actually excused himself from most discussions about CAMRA SF and abstained from any votes related to SF to ensure there was not appearance of conflict as he knew these unfounded rumours were out there.

This is a claim made by a few, that Vancouver wants to take over SF, goes back the the first executive of SF and some interpersonal conflicts. It has always been false and makes no sense as it was the Vancouver branch who most helped get the branch up and running and lent support.

To help highlight how this train of thought is false, there have been on-going CAMRA BC discussions over the past year or two about how to create smaller branches to better serve the members which flies in the exact opposite direction of the claim that Vancouver is power hungry and wants to absorb SF.

I, for one, would love to see a CAMRA East Van, CAMRA N Van, CAMRA Downtown, CAMRA Richmond, CAMRA Surrey, etc.

I am even in the process of trying to divide up CAMRA Powell River by creating a committee on the Lower Sunshine Coast to mentor them so that eventually they can have their own branch to better serve our members who live in that region.

Having smaller branches is a much better way to be inclusive and better serve the membership of certain areas.

The CAMRA BC plan is now, and always has been, to get the SF branch's affairs in order and have them grow to become a productive and active member of the society, upholding the values and supporting the mandate of the CAMRA BC.

What CAMRA BC is attempting to do is organize an extraordinary general meeting, or AGM, for SF members to discuss all the issues and to put everything on the table for SF members so that a plan for the future can be put into place to ensure success.

At this point a meeting cannot be organized as the SF executive have not supplied a membership. At this point CAMRA BC has no idea who is a CAMRA BC member in good standing of the SF branch.

CAMRA BC is a consumer advocacy group, run by volunteers who love craft beer, and lately it has been more about the consumers consuming than the advocacy, but that is a different blog post for a different time. What many do not understand that the branches actually have no legal standing on their own, other than having permission to operate under the CAMRA BC umbrella. There is only one society registered with the province, that being CAMRA BC. They hold all the insurances that protect the branches when they hold events, they are the executive who must report and file with the province each year.

They are the executive that is ultimately responsible for what goes on. But CAMRA BC has historically not micro-managed branches and have allowed local executives to do as they see fit as long as they are in compliance with the by-laws and Society Act.

Having rogue branches operating out there under the CAMRA BC umbrella puts the autonomy of all branches in jeopardy.

Could things have been done differently?

Of course.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Everyone out there has an opinion on how this could have been handled differently. CAMRA BC has learned much from this and safeguards are now in place, as to how new branches are approved, founded and built, that are a direct result of the initial and almost instantaneous problems identified with the SF branch's founding and structure. The South Okanagan branch is a prime example of this new process, a process that is constantly being tweaked, looked at and refined.

Should the general membership been more informed earlier?

Possibly yes, but again, how do you address a membership when you have no list of members to address? As well, CAMRA BC was trying to work to protect the feelings and reputations of some.

This is another lesson learned.

As a group, lets look at moving forward and fixing this instead of entertaining delusional beliefs, propagating untruths and pointing fingers. All parties want to see a healthy and functioning branch of CAMRA operating south of the Fraser. In fact, there is probably room for two or three branches in the area.

If you are an active member of SF, why not reach out to the executive who was elected in 2015 and push them to provide a membership list and financial reports so we can move forward and hold a meeting. Better yet, why not help get those things organized?

I, for one, want this meeting to take place sooner than later and I hope to be in attendance to be accountable for my role in what has transpired and to ensure the members get answers to their queries.  The answers I give may not be the answers they want to hear, but I will be truthful and forthright. My opinion is that this branch should have been shut down weeks after inception when multiple and serious issues were identified. I pushed for that at the time, but others wanted to give things a chance to work out.

Unfortunately, they have not worked themselves out and here we are.

I do not expect some to like this post, agree with it and that may include some within the BC executive but I felt that these things needed to be said. I have nothing against those who have been involved in trying to launch this branch and in fact do not know any of them personally other than from the odd meeting or event. I want what is best for CAMRA BC and the members who support what CAMRA is all about.

And, most of all, remember, it is only beer. Lets have some fun and fight the good fight of advocating on behalf of the craft beer drinkers of BC. We do not need to fight each other as there is enough conflict in the world already.

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