The CHFC AGM ended two days ago for most, but yesterday for me. As the newly elected Ontario Regional Director my Sunday morning was spent at an orientation for new Ontario Council members and CHFC directors followed by an Ontario Council meeting followed by a CHFC board meeting. This was the end of a week-long gathering of the co-op housing clan. It was a tiring, renewing, reflective and inspiring time, an opportunity for sharing concerns and dreams that is all too rare.
A regret I have about the week as a whole was one of timing—I was not able to attend mass at the Our Lady of Peace Roman Catholic Church. The chapel, on the edge of the Cistercian’ Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre, dates back to 1837, and is a place dedicated to the inclusive vision of peace for all within creation. Because meetings I was required to attend coincided with all the mass times during my stay in Niagara Falls, I lost an opportunity to share with other people of my faith time in purposeful prayer.
A regret I have about the AGM, of both the Ontario Region and CHFC meetings, is the lack of resolutions coming from the broader membership. This has been explained to me as common in mature movements, where practical matters such as preservation of housing stock, becomes the role of the movement. I don’t totally accept this. Yes, after decades of work a major purpose of CHFC is providing member services rather than movement building, but the movement part of co-operative housing needs to be nourished as well to ensure the ongoing viability of the movement. Local co-ops help to provide direction for, and sustain the work of, the broader sector when they bring forth matters for shared consideration. Issues such as Aging in Place and the need to support new and emerging leadership are recent examples of the membership providing leadership. It would be great to have far more of this.
My being at the AGM as part of the elected leadership and not a delegate is still a bit confusing. I am not there to take or lead workshops; I have little role in the debates on the convention floor; I don’t even have a real role in dealing with visitors or politicians. What I am present for is to meet with others elected to make decisions and to listen, to find out from CHFC’s members what they want the organisation to do and learn about difficulties and challenges that CHFC can respond to. This is an informal role, which I am not really comfortable with—I’m not a social being. The limited numbers of people I feel comfortable with have been active in the sector for years and have no hesitation about sharing their views on the convention floor or in calls and emails to staff and board.
The national AGM meeting was more of a celebration than a organisational meeting. Excerpts from the play Journey to Tompkinsville, speeches and greetings from co-op partners and leaders from the International Co-operative Alliance Housing and similar addresses filled up a substantive part of the meeting. There wasn’t a lot of questioning of the annual report, the report on follow-up to resolutions from last year’s meeting or the financial report. One question, asking if there was an investment policy with a concern about ethical screening, did bring up a nostalgic memory of my having asked a similar question in the 1980s. The answer back then was that the movement was working on it; the answer this year was yes with an offer to provide a copy of the policy.
There was one motion that I did speak do—a call on CHFC to work with other sectors to press to keep co-op and non-profit housing affordable. One key point I made that as a person whose family has benefited from having a subsidy in the past, I know how important such programmes are. Another was that CHFC is the most effective body in the non-profit world in terms of mounting a political fight. The motion was the most political one dealt with and was a reminder that there is an idealistic core to the movement.
After the AGM and prior to the closing dinner, I attended a reception for co-ops receiving loyalty awards from CHFC. These are awards for co-ops with 20 or 30 consecutive years of membership. DACHI, when I live, and CoAction, which I am the executive director of, both received an award for 30 years of membership this year. I received the award on behalf of DACHI.
For the first time in all the years I’ve attended the CHFC AGM I attended the closing dinner. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience and I’ll likely forgo the experience in the future. I am not a social person. It remains very stressful to engage in social banter with others. I can stand at a microphone to take part in a debate; I’ve stood in front of over 40,000 people to give a fundraising speech at a major demonstration; I’ve been in front of charging police on horseback—all are far easier to deal with than sitting down to share a meal with people I have known for years.
Sunday morning I ran between three meetings—an orientation for newly elected board and council members, an Ontario Council meeting and a CHFC board meeting. There are people who have been part of the leadership of the movement for generations (mysteriously I seem to be among them) and others for whom this was their first AGM. The only specific role I left the meetings with was as the CHFC board appointee to the Finance and Audit Committee. I didn’t find the meetings difficult—-I felt welcomed to the national table and I have served two terms on Ontario Council—but I found the need to run from one to another difficult. In the fall this running will be even more challenging—leaving the Ontario Council meeting in Toronto to fly to Ottawa for the CHFC board meeting.
The CHFC AGM is now history. Its Facebook page has disappeared. It exists in files, in photos, in memories. Those that came together have departed to places as far away as Kenya and Victoria. Our movement is still strong. It brings together young and old, first nations and immigrants, low income families and well off professions, who share a commitment to diverse communities of affordable member controlled housing. I look forward to next year’s AGM in Calgary.
With the exception of board meetings of DACHI, CAIC, St. Clare’s, 43rd Co-op, SCM and TNRC, I have no meetings until the fall.