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Wakefield centre AGM a missed opportunity

September 27th,2023 | Opinion

If board members are serious about improving things at the Wakefield community centre, they should first study how to run a proper annual general meeting (AGM) — in both languages.

Last week’s Centre Wakefield La Pêche (CWLP) meeting was supposed to galvanize the community through collective and thoughtful discussion over how best to manage the village’s beloved community centre, but residents instead left frustrated and divided — and with more confusion than clarity. Most left the English-only meeting tired and confused.

The night started out in a daze, as a handful of newly-minted CWLP members were told they wouldn’t be allowed to vote on the agenda items because they had to wait the required 30-day pending period for memberships. This spurred an intense discussion about the centre’s outdated bylaws and led to board president Vicki Carlan admitting that the centre has not been adhering to the province’s Cooperative Act.

Updates to the bylaws were supposed to be approved at the meeting, but when a member asked what the changes were, there were no prepared copies of the bylaws on hand. When they did arrive later, board members tried to whip through them and just pass them, but residents argued over a lack of transparency, so the bylaws vote was put off. One of the most important pieces of any AGM is the financials, and there were no audited financial statements available to members. Board members didn’t propose a new operating budget and there was no vote on how much money to spend on things in the future.

This was a huge missed opportunity for the centre, as it had a critical mass – close to 100 dedicated members on the floor, ready to make decisions – and there was nothing for them to vote on.

And the most important topic at this meeting – discussing the centre’s future and the possibility of transferring ownership of the building to the municipality – was reduced to a footnote at the end of a meeting overshadowed by poor planning and a lack of structure.

Most residents wanted to hear a list of pros and cons for the municipality taking over the building — a true analysis broken down to show how such a decision could impact the future of the centre. What would the model look like? How would a municipal partnership work? How would the centre’s day-to-day operations be affected?

There was certainly some discussion from the board, mostly about how it favoured a transfer of ownership to the municipality, but there was no real argument behind why. Aside from showing the many repairs that are needed – from new $100,000 theatre lights to a $500,000 roof replacement – there was no argument laid out as to why transferring the centre to the municipality may be a good idea.

And for a centre that says it’s trying to be inclusive, there wasn’t one word spoken in French at last week’s membership meeting. While this newspaper has been a champion for English rights in the region, it has always argued for bilingual services to be maintained for everyone. Last week’s English-only meeting isn’t the best look for a community centre in Quebec.

It’s no secret that being a board member is difficult. The hours are long, the issues are complex and the “promised land” on the other side doesn’t look so pretty. It’s important to praise those volunteers brave enough to enter the void.

But the community centre took its shot and missed again this week — more proof that its systemic governance issues continue to mire any potential progress.

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