DISCUSSION: What is a society?

This is a piece by Martha Rans from the Artists' Legal Outreach.  Please follow the link below and join in the discussion.  This issue is flying under the radar for a lot of arts organizations, but many of those facing cuts will have to look at their bylaws to deal with potential cuts in administration.  With the Society Act session coming up next week, you have an opportunity to talk about how to do this and share resources.  Martha is flagging a very important issue for the arts community here and invites your input.  

Join the discussion on yourtake.ca where she made this blog post:

I was reading Doug Saunders column in the Globe & Mail and was struck by the following comment he attributes to Margaret Thatcher: “There is no such thing as society . . . there are individual men and women.” I wondered whether in some sense the idea of a society is somewhat at odds with the prevailing view of individual achievement and accountability. I also wondered the degree to which our current economically driven policy discussions conceivably undermine our sense of ourselves as communities rather than groupings/collectives of individuals. This goes directly to what we mean by a society. Society is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “the fact or condition of taking part with others or another in some action; participation, partnership. The fact or condition of being connected, related, or allied; relationship, alliance An association or body of people united by a common aim, interest, belief, profession. A group of people meeting together, esp for discussion, conviviality or worship.” What are those common aims today? what are those common purposes?

This led me back to Gavin Perryman’s comments: “The policy question is whether societies need further regulation, and why? 

One might argue that, because societies sometimes use volunteers in service delivery, they are unique; but, this could be addressed by developing, in parallel with the Employment Standards Act, a Volunteer Standards Act. . . . The general argument, however, for increased regulation of societies, different from regulation of public agencies and private enterprises, has been twofold: (i) they are often small and weakly managed/governed, and so need help, and (ii) they are of public interest (i.e. serve a public good). . . . The first argument is weak. There is no evidence to suggest that societies are less well managed or governed than public agencies or private enterprises. Nor is the reverse true that they are better managed or governed. These simply are myths. Nor is there evidence to suggest that regulation or increased regulation leads to stronger management and governance. In fact, the evidence is likely for the opposite (the more rules, the more internal rigidity, and the less flexibility, adaptability, productivity, and innovation). . . .The second argument might hold some weight if we could actually define the public good in a way that we all agree upon, and if all societies actually were about meeting the public good (which is factually not true).”

While I philosophically disagree with some of Gavin’s ultimate conclusions, I agree with Gavin in several significant respects: there is a considerable lack of research within the sector about what the actual needs are of the sector to better comply with regulatory standards. There is also a considerable need for basic legal education for Boards of Directors about governance and accountability. Quite frankly, too many of us become pre-occupied with problems and crisis and not nearly enough on basic education and support.

As a former lawyer with the Employment Standards Branch in my experience for profit businesses are at least as non compliant as not for profit societies when it comes to managing basic employment issues the difference is access to advice and representation. A Volunteer Standards Act will not change that. There continues to be a significant lack of clarity about the purpose of the sector and the degree to which regulation helps or hinders the sector. As a start the evaluations of the CRA compliance projects as well as those of other community based projects (whether Society Act 101, or VanCity’s Financial Fitness series) could form the basis for a discussion of what we need to be doing to better support the sector so that when we have a new Society Act we can respond effectively.




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