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Has the BC Medical Association been stolen from the members?

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Doctors and members of the BC Medical Association (Doctors Of BC) are asking what is happening at the helm of the BCMA? Some are saying they think the new CEO Allan Seckel is not good for the Association and a sign that bad things are happening to the Association.

Who is Allan Seckel? How did he get to be the BCMA CEO? What is he doing as the CEO? And what is the BCMA Board doing?

Who is Allan Seckel?

Mr. Allan Seckel, QC began his career as a lawyer at Russell & DuMoulin and became partner of Fasken Martineau DuMoulin. In 2003 he left the law firm for government and became the BC Deputy Attorney General.

He was in government for eight years and was Deputy Minister to Premier Gordon Campbell and former Head of the BC Public Service Agency before coming to the BCMA. He is a creature of government and more specifically inner circles of government.

Senior management positions in government include some restrictions and conditions of employment to preserve public trust and integrity including some conditions that apply after leaving public service. The policy is available online and the link is provided below.

Allan Seckel while Head of the BC Public Service Agency was the architect of amendments to allow the Head of the PSA to waive the conditions of employment under special circumstances. When Allan Seckel left the Premier's Office in March 2011 and shortly thereafter started working for the BCMA he triggered the need for exemptions to be granted to him by his successor the new Head of the PSA, Lynda Tarras.

In a fascinating blog this week Alex Tsakumis, possibly the widest read blogger in Western Canada with over 200,000 readers, provides details of this and more. He says, "The integrity and soundness of the provincial public service is at stake here." To read his blog see the link below.

Doctors and members of the BCMA do not know how Allan Seckel was selected as the new CEO, who was on the selection committee, how many applicants there were, what details were provided to the Board, whether it was a recommendation to the Board or a decision of the Board?

What is the new CEO doing?

Since Allan Seckel became BCMA CEO other senior management positions at the BCMA have been filled.

First, Ms. Marisa Adair became the new Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs.

Ms. Adair worked in government communications for almost fifteen years since 1997 and was Communications Director for the BC Provincial Government at the time she jumped ship to the BCMA at the end of May 2012.

Did Ms. Adair also require granting of special exemptions to her conditions of employment in the public service?

Was the decision to hire Marisa Adair made by Allan Seckel or the BCMA Board? There is no mention in the reports from the Chair of the Board or in the resolutions of the Board posted to the BCMA website members area. Notice of her being hired appeared in the BCMJ June 2012 issue.

Then in early September 2012 through the Vancouver Sun we learn Mr Paul Straszak, the BC Liberal government's top advisor on public sector negotiations is leaving his job after seven years in government to became the new BCMA Executive Director of Negotiations. Just months ahead of provincial elections with polls favoring a change in government he denies this had anything to do with his decision.

Did Paul Straszak's jump from government to the BCMA also trigger the waiving of requirements and conditions to his employment in the public service?

Members of the BCMA did not learn of the filling of this important position through a President's Letter, notice from the CEO, or Board Chair report. Instead a notice appeared in the BCMJ October 2012 issue.

Was the decision to hire Paul Straszak made by Allan Seckel or the BCMA Board? Again there is no mention in the reports from the Chair of the Board or in the resolutions of the Board posted to the BCMA website members area.

Why did the BCMA Board not evaluate and seek input from the membership on the option of hiring a staff negotiator with the impact it has had over the past fifteen years in contrast to the option of selecting negotiators as needed on brief term contracts as previously done by the Association?

Could Paul Straszak's prior associations with the BC Liberal Government fetter the BCMA in its efforts should there be a change in government? Will it breed further encroachment of bureaucratic processes as obstructions to the health care system?

It is important for the BCMA membership to know if the hiring decisions related to the Director of Communications and Director of Negotiations were made by the CEO or by the Board. Previously these two senior positions in the BCMA were filled by decisions of the Board. It appears there has been a change.

There are also questions about the BC Rail sale and Allan Seckel's role in the matter and there have been calls for a public inquiry. Now Bill Tieleman, previously an ardent critic of both the BC Rail matter and Allan Seckel, has now become silent on the matter. Is this because he has been hired as a consultant by the BCMA? Again blogs by Alex Tsakumis in mid-October brought this to light with more details and questions.

Re-reading the 2012 BCMA Annual Report by the CEO Allan Seckel and seeing how he is reorganizing departments we see Ms. Cathy Cordell, staff legal counsel moved to the Executive Office. Where are the physicians in senior management at the BCMA? Have they been moved to departments away from the Executive Office while the CEO's own chosen team are brought to the helm?

Has the BCMA become a safe haven for senior government employees to jump to in a belief that the current government won’t last beyond the next election? Are exemptions to conditions of their employment in the public service being granted readily and by whom?

As Alex Tsakumis says, "the integrity and soundness of the provincial public service is at stake here." But, also the integrity and soundness of the BC Medical Association is at stake here.

What is the BCMA Board doing?

Accountability for the Association must ultimately rest with the BCMA Board.

Has the BCMA become overgrown with other interests that have taken root through lack of openness and transparency?

The July 26, 2012 Board Chair report of the June 8 Board Meeting, the June 9 AGM and the June 10 Board meeting attempts to convey an aire of transparency. Yet, when one looks at the BCMA Board Resolutions for the June 8, 2012 meeting one finds a resolution with no clarification that is glaring by its total lack of transparency:

"RESOLUTION B12/06/08-42
That the BCMA Board rescinds Board Resolution B89-322 of September 15 & 16, 1989.

What exactly did the Board rescind that they did not want the members to know? It is possible for members to request resolution B89-322.

The resolution the Board rescinded is a policy in place since 1989 limiting how long individuals can be on committees and how long they can serve as the chair. The Board has been operating in contravention of this policy for a long time and when it was raised the Board simply rescinded the policy and sent it to a committee for review. It is hard to believe the motion to rescind was carried unanimously. One wonders how many Board directors abstained.

Are the Board of Directors as a whole incapable of realizing their duties? Have they lost sight of their responsibilities and become rubber stamps for the decisions of staff or others? Have they forgotten their accountability to the membership?

Are some new directors on the Board still struggling with what can really be achieved to improve the Board function with the composition as it is? Are they wondering why they even try when practices are so flawed?

Is the new CEO empowering the Board to change and become more open and transparent to the members? Or is his style to appear pragmatic while encouraging delay and not acknowledging the rights and principles that decisions should be based on?

Z. Essak, MD

Web Links:

Alex Tsakumis blog 2012-11-06 Allan Seckel goes to BCMA

Post-Employment Restrictions for BC Government Senior Management

Vancouver Sun, BC Government's top advisor on negotiations goes to BCMA

Alex Tsakumis blog 2012-10-17, 2012-10-18, 2011-11-16

2012-06 BCMA Annual Report

Allan Seckel, LinkedIn

Marisa Adair, LinkedIn

Paul Straszak, LinkedIn


facts or fiction

a) sounds like the BCMA is the Noah's Ark of the liberal Government before the flood (come on in, free cruise for Lawyers and administrators)

b) an infiltration of the BCMA by Government to control health care cost at the source (may be not a bad idea to experiment on)

c) the BCMA board is a launching platform for high paying jobs in the Government

d) a long term arrangement between big people, none of your business, go back to your patients

e) It's all just coincidence, don't worry - be happy. The BCMA Board has already demonstrated the utmost integrity and transparence to its members

Can't wait to pay my 2013 dues.

By the way why (who?) did we decide to renegotiate the second half of our 4 year agreement, shouldn't we call this a 2 year agreement then.  

Who benefits from this.

Does it cost us ($) anything to split a 4 year contract ? You know, administrative, legal and other fees.


term lengths for officers?

At risk of digression from the main topic....

If the office of President is important, and – particularly in an environment where it can take time to implement any changes – it may be better to have a term of two years, rather than just a single year.

Presently, the terms of delegates are two years, and the term of the chair of the Board (subject to annual renewal) is three years.

It is true that a two-year term would, in the case of weaker Presidents, have the capacity to delay their replacement by someone more capable. On the other hand, nothing currently prevents a succession of weak leaders.

By contrast, every time we would have an effective leader, a second year could greatly assist their efforts.

Would others reading this thread be open to a two-year term for President-Elect and President?

Getting back to Dr Essak's posting, I cannot construe the arrival of new staff, or events since, as any kind of "theft". The CEO was hired by the Board, with others hired since. Fundamentally, the question is whether the current Board, as trustee of the Association, is adequately dutiful with respect to care, loyalty and obedience. This is something that members need to decide.

If the members are not satisfied with the Board, nothing precludes their turning over a majority of directors between May and June.

Jim Busser, MD FRCPC MHSc

The phrase "a creature of government"

A colleague asked me about my use of the phrase.

My use of the phrase "a creature of government" is borrowed from Dr. Norman Rigby, retired GP and former BCMA CEO, who spoke at a forum in 2006 and can be heard on a YouTube video available on DocLounge. The phrase is a simple figure of speech. In itself the phrase is quite neutral, no different than when we refer to ourselves as "creatures of comfort" or "all creatures great and small". In the six years that the video has been available through DocLounge I have not heard any concerns about the phrase and would be surprised if my use of the phrase were to be taken any differently.

Elections are meaningless without transparency

Elections are meaningless without transparency whatever level the election is on whether it be the election of officers and directors to the Board or positions on the Executive and committees.

How can members decide and elect a Board that can do the job when there is no transparency as to how individual directors stand on issues?

What are members to do - read between the lines?

Reports that are sent to members are not even authored by those that they purport to be reports from. The Chair report is not authored by the Chair. The President's Letter is not authored by the President. In recent years the documents are authored by the Director of Communications and since the position was newly filled the report from the chair does not even include a date of the publication for readers to see.

More importantly, the position of the Chair of the Board has been filled, first on a temporary basis and now on a two year term basis, by an individual who is themselves a defendant in the important lawsuit that has been extremely costly and lengthy with judgment pending. This position not only allows the individual to determine the flow of Board meetings but also have a seat at the Executive Committee. The potential conflict of interest and impropriety is of significant concern to many members of the Association yet it persists.

Another seat at the Executive is occupied by a Board member who is the brother to another of the individual defendants in the lawsuit with judgment pending.

Mr Allan Seckel when asked at the 2012 AGM what he might do if he were concerned about actions of the Board answered that since he is employed by the Board he would tell the Board his concerns and beyond that he would not be able to tell the members but would have to consider resigning if his concerns were not heeded by the Board. I wonder, what views has the CEO shared in regard to the choices for these positions?

It would be hard to concede there were no other suitable candidates to choose from. The membership had no say in these positions, these were decisions the Board made.

And it goes on.

The Board is now contemplating limiting the communications that can be sent out by candidates during elections. Is the use of public and other communications by candidates no longer to be allowed while the BCMA can use communications with access to all members despite the irregularities we have seen in recent years? Is freedom of speech up for grabs?

Then there's the item of whether or not to continue using "Roberts Rules". One can only imagine what the Board's purpose could be or the recommendation that may be brought forward with a legal opinion of a particular position. One thing is for sure, it will bore members to death. And if the members are turned off things will go on as before.

Let us not forget as mentioned in the original post, rescinding policies that have been contravened as if they never existed.

Openness and transparency are paramount and long overdue. The members must know what is going on at the Board. Otherwise elections are meaningless and extending the length of terms hazardous without merit. The rights of members may be lost completely.


Creature of government is exactly what it says

It does not matter how it (" creature of government" ) is interpreted, it is what it is.  We have creatures of the Government at crucial positions in the BCMA.  If you don't like the word creature you may use people, type, official, employees but this is simply semantics.  Maybe that person who challenged your choice of word feels threatened by new ideas.

The idea is simple, they might not be the right people to help lead our association, or if so, someone ought to communicate to the membership, why they might be.  Note that I do not have a problem with the CEO as a person or his qualification or ethics but the strategic choice made by the Board.

When one spends many years in an organization, he/she start thinking like it, make other "friends" like them etc... The fact of the matter is that Government work requires different thinking framework and personnas than private organization.  Also when one has spent so many years in the Government, it is hard (and takes time) to shed some of the connections (people and ideas) that could negatively influence one's new job (like the realtor that wants to believe he/she can represent the vendor and the buyer at the same time).  That is why, high stakes organization (Defence Ministry etc) have mechanisms in place to prevent this "blurring of past and present agendas" (in Western Nations at least), because you cannot always leave it up to the individual to do so.  

People with respectful disagreement should not feel that they are silenced and should not be afraid to speak up. 

An outsider would also ask why Doclounge has to exist outside of the BCMA rather than inside.

What threatens the autonomy and integrity of our association is an unaccountable leadership and rules and bylaws that go against the running of a true democratic association.  That (may) not apply to the whole leadership structure, or all that was done but, then, the rest of that leadership should wake up, and with as little as an ounce of courage, stand up and confront those who remain unabashed.

The choice of a creature of government as CEO is merely a symptom of the disease.

The focus ought to be reforming the BCMA governance and move it to a modern association that:

1) really listens and consults its member, not the half baked democratic process that even a toddler would notice

2) acts first and foremost in the best interest of the profession, reducing internal inequities for instance

3) is efficient and does not sinks under a dis-array of a myriad of committees and 38 members that can't see the big picture (I can't resist: too busy shooting alligators, to drain the swamp)

4) acts independently of the Government with which it negotiates.

Our Physicians organizations should lead by example.  

Membership apathy, not only is partly the cause of this (lack of choice of some adequate leaders), but also the consequence (what's the point for the tail to participate if the head is not listening).  


Do you guys have any idea how many of us out here in doctor-land

I just want to share this email I received and my response:

Do you guys have any idea how many of us out here in doctor-land have no idea who these people are

Yes, I can imagine it may be a large number, maybe even a very large number out of 11,000 doctors in BC.

and do not care??

Not sure about that, once you have even a few minutes to consider will you care?


Cease fire banner, you don't speak for the people.