Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.
I would like to preface my remarks by saying that my experience with Rights and Democracy is only limited to the last 11 months, as I was appointed to the Board at the end of April, 2009.
I'm glad to be able to take this opportunity to introduce myself to you, because comments have been made by some members of Parliament and others that directly and indirectly impugn the board of Rights and Democracy by attempting to undermine the credibility of individual board members, including myself.
My name is Brad Farquhar. I'm a management consultant and an international democracy development practitioner with a wide array of lifelong experience. By the time I turned 19, I had moved 11 times, lived in three countries, and visited some 32 others, culminating in a summer spent in northeastern Zaire, as it was then called, working on a water development project between high school and university. It was a great start for a career that would take me around the world.
I spent a number of years at the start of my career working in federal and provincial politics. During that time, I became somewhat of an expert on electoral financing in Saskatchewan, and I sat on an all-party committee that made recommendations to the Saskatchewan legislative assembly on changes to the Election Act of Saskatchewan. I also completed a master's degree in election administration from Griffith University in Australia, and I am quite possibly the only Canadian to hold a degree specifically in election administration.
It was on the basis of this background that I received a telephone call in 2004 from IFES, formally known as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, inquiring whether I would be willing to go to Tajikistan for four months over Christmas to work on a political party development project. Tajikistan was about to have its second parliamentary election in history, and the six registered political parties and their candidates needed support in learning how to campaign in an open contest. These parties included the governing People's Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and the Islamic Revival Party, which is the only registered Islamic party in Central Asia.
In Tajikistan I wrote a curriculum for parliamentary candidates that was taught across the country. I organized the first ever election trade fairs, which allowed the public to meet candidates from all six parties at once, and I was part of a team that organized the largest training event for election officials in Tajikistan history. In the middle of winter, we brought over 450 election-day officials from their remote mountain valleys to the capital in a massive logistical exercise. Then, on election day, I was accredited to the OSCE observer mission as an election observer.
Several months after returning to Canada, I was awarded the Saskatchewan Centennial Medal in honour of my contribution to democratic development in Tajikistan. Since then, I have worked on election finance reform projects in Jamaica and authored proposals for democracy development projects in Egypt. I co-founded the Democracy Promoters' Network, an online networking forum for Canadian democracy promoters. The University of Regina engaged me to teach a third-year political science course on elections, and I have been a panellist on international democracy assistance alongside Saskatchewan Lieutenant-Governor Gordon Barnhart.
In the midst of this, I have also made it a priority of my consulting practice to spend about one month of each year volunteering in developing countries with my entire family. In 2008, my wife and I worked on the development of a school and a teacher training centre in eastern Niger. In 2009, we went back to Niger with our three young children shortly after Robert Fowler and Louis Guay were kidnapped by al-Qaeda, close to the area of where we would be working. People thought we were insane to go to Niger and take our children along, but we are committed as a family to making a difference in our world and to teaching our children that the world is much larger than their comfortable, middle-class lives here in Canada. With privilege comes responsibility.
This summer we will spend a month in Mongolia, working with grassroots Mongolian entrepreneurs and NGOs on several agriculture projects, to help the people of Mongolia recover from a disastrous winter in which more than half the country's livestock died of hunger and exposure.
So why have I told you all this? I've told you this because we have been called here today in an effort by some to prove that we are nothing more than partisan stooges in some kind of conspiracy at Rights and Democracy. I know what partisanship and partisan politics look like. I spent a number of years working in that environment. I, too, ran for public office, albeit somewhat less successful than all of you. But those who claim that partisanship defines my character prove they don't know me and they don't know my motivations. Like you, I have a desire to serve and make the world a better place. So let's leave politics aside and let's look at Rights and Democracy.
Yes, there have been disagreements over a performance review and over unwise grants to some organizations in the Middle East. Disagreements take place in every organization, but at Rights and Democracy, disagreement took on a life of its own because the now late president decided to fight.
There was a deliberate campaign to divide the board and turn it on itself. The staff were politicized against certain board members by trying to convince them that the board consisted of evil envoys of the Conservative government bent on destruction. Legal means were used to pursue a resolution to the disagreement in a way that would be satisfactory to the president, but which would undermine the governance structures of the organization.
But there is something that concerns me far more than disagreements over performance reviews or grants in the Middle East. I have observed a culture at Rights and Democracy that is not predisposed to openness and accountability, even to members of the board. I have observed board members trying to do their jobs by asking questions about projects and results and being consistently met with non-answers, with bobbing and weaving, with disdainful contempt, and with delay tactics.
What I have observed at Rights and Democracy is a clear belief among staff that the organization's quasi-autonomy from the government of the day should translate into independence from the oversight of their own board. When board members' questions are met with non-information, physical blockades, and leaks to the media, it sets off alarm bells that prompt the board to ask more questions to get to the truth of the matter. When this is construed as harassment, as government interference, or as the implementation of some kind of partisan vendetta, it is an outrageous attempt to politicize something that does not deserve the label.
Rather than talk in generalities, let me share with you two examples of what I mean when I talk about accountability and transparency. This will take a few minutes, but I want to beg your indulgence, if I could.
I listened to the recording of your meeting earlier this week with the former employees and there are inconsistencies, so I want to outline for you a timeline of certain events that took place this January.
As you all know, we were shocked to learn on January 8 of Mr. Beauregard's untimely death. Later that day, the union president sent an e-mail to the staff about these events, and he said they would meet with management on Monday--that was a Friday--to discuss ways and means whereby the union could contribute to preserving the interests of Rights and Democracy.
On Monday, the now-famous letter calling for the resignation of the board leadership was sent out. Simultaneously, management retracted the main sticking point in its negotiations with the union so an agreement in principle was reached on a new collective agreement. At present, this board remains in the dark regarding the contents of the sections that were removed, which were retracted to break that logjam. The section generally deals with disciplinary measures, so we're left to speculate on what was removed.
The next day, the union president indicated to the staff that there would be a meeting to discuss a ratification vote on this new collective agreement. On Friday of that week--this is one week now after the death of the president--a new collective agreement was signed on behalf of the centre by Marie-France Cloutier, Anne-Marie Lavoie, and France-Isabelle Langlois, who are directors and deputy directors at Rights and Democracy.
The following Monday, the president of the union sent an e-mail to the staff indicating that the contract had been signed, and the next day there was a ratification vote in which the new contract was overwhelmingly approved.
Why is this important? This is important because for months and months the board had been told that the employees did not have a contract, there was an outstanding discussion, and that this was a very tough union to deal with. Suddenly, very quickly, they managed to get an agreement at a time when they needed the support of the staff. It's highly unusual.
On Tuesday, January 19--so this is the day of the ratification vote, two hours after the ratification vote--Mr. Braun received an e-mail from the management committee at the centre to inform him that they were respectfully declining his request as chair to reconvene the board meeting in Montreal later that week.
On Friday, the board met anyway in Toronto, and my colleague, Mr. Gauthier, was appointed as acting president. Dr. Braun sent a memo to the staff in which he indicated that Mr. Gauthier had been appointed as president. Less than two hours later a response was received from Marie-France Cloutier, and cc'd to the board and the staff, that she refused to implement the details of that memo, and she announced for the very first time that she was now on sick leave for three weeks. This is the only notice ever received from Madame Cloutier regarding her sick leave, and it comes five days after the date she indicated here in this committee, on Tuesday, that she had gone on sick leave. So five days later was when the board was notified. Even after she announced her sick leave, we know that she attended Mr. Beauregard's funeral, she went to Ottawa and met with officials at DFAIT, she wrote an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, and she went on a long-planned trip to Disney World.
Here's the thing, though. I have learned most of these details in the past two days. On Tuesday morning, just two days ago, the board of Rights and Democracy did not know that a new collective agreement had been agreed to, and signed, and ratified over two months ago. This board has met three times since this agreement was ratified, and no one on the management team ever brought it up. The collective agreement with a union is one of the most material contracts to an organization, and it is incomprehensible to me that the entire agreement was put together without board knowledge or consent, and that it remained hidden from view for over two months.
I had another point. I will leave that and maybe it will come up in the questions.
In summary, Mr. Chairman, in 11 months on this board, I have witnessed a method of operation at Rights and Democracy that is not consistent with good governance norms for transparency and accountability. This example that I gave, plus the other one that I'd be glad to discuss, are two examples among many, and they are the reason why the board has been consistent in its message in demanding more transparency and greater accountability. Without this, we are unable to do our jobs.