By Alice Chen & Zaid Noorsumar
Part 6 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA
The Ontario Personal Support Worker Association (OPSWA) is one of the only associations representing Personal Support Workers in the province. It has a president, but it has no governing board because OPSWA is in fact governed by its parent body, the Canadian Support Workers Association (CANSWA). As it turns out, CANSWA’s board of directors is closely related to its president, Miranda Ferrier.
The federal filings for the Canadian Support Worker’s Association (CANSWA) shows three different directors.
One of the directors is Rozetta Stolp. Stolp shares part of their last name with Ferrier – whose full last name is Stolp-Ferrier. Sources say she is Miranda’s mother.
Miranda Ferrier’s husband, Michal Romanowicz, is also on the CANSWA board.
Another CANSWA board member, Brandon Crandall, shares a home address with Ian DaSilva, OPSWA’s Director of Human Resources.
These personal connections raise questions in light of OPSWA’s membership structure. According to the OPSWA’s bylaws, the only class of members with voting rights are the directors. The membership at large has no say.
OPSWA claims to represent 49,000 PSWs, nearly a third of the province’s estimated 130,000-plus currently working support workers.
Conflict of interest?
This structure is known as a self-perpetuating membership and while legal, some say it is not meant to be used with such a closely related board of directors.
According to Cathy Brothers, CEO of charity education group Capacity Canada, it is highly unusual to have family members on the board.
“Board members should all be arms length from the organization…the conflict of interest would be if they stand to gain something financially,” she says.
Brothers adds that the board should be transparent and accountable to its members.
Clifford Goldfarb, a non-profit lawyer at Gardiner Roberts LLP, emphasizes that the membership structure is not unusual. He says often non-profits choose to close off membership because of less strict auditing requirements.
On the other hand, Doris Grinspun, chief executive officer of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), says having family members on the board is unprecedented and problematic.
Grinspun points to issues of fiduciary responsibility and conflict of interest – whether real or perceived – on matters of policy selection and finances, and concentration of authority. Asked to provide examples, Grinspun offers that policies may be advanced that benefit personal gain, rather than help the association or its members.
Tim Sothern, partner with BDO, agrees that the set-up of the board is unusual. He says that there are usually term limits for directors to prevent stagnation. OPSWA does have some term limits. But since the membership at large has no voting power, the board positions are decided by the directors themselves.
The legal requirements for being a board director don’t make any mention of family member restrictions.
Grinspun says that at RNAO, any member in good standing can apply to run for board positions. Furthermore, RNAO has a “one member, one vote,” bylaw. This means that all the members of the association are eligible to vote for each candidate to board positions. This contrasts with OPSWA’s voting structure, but neither structure is legally disallowed.
“We don’t have three people in the same family working at RNAO, let alone on the board which is the governing body of the association,” Grinspun says. “If what you’re telling me is true then it would be extremely concerning.”
Ferrier spoke to Alice Chen in an initial interview but did not respond to further requests for comment regarding board members, voting structures and potential bias.
“I think that the Ontario government, if it is considering giving any regulatory authority to OPSWA or any other organization that is a spin-off of OPSWA, must look into all of the non-arm’s length relationships, on the board and in the governance of the organization, and ensure that there is real independence,” says Natalie Mehra, the executive director of the advocacy group Ontario Health Coalition.
“And it’s not just [the relationships] with family members and other close associates that raises legitimate questions about whether there is accountability within the organization. But in addition, [there are questions related to] funding from for-profit companies that employ the workers that the OPSWA say they represent.”
This article is Part 6 of our Special Investigation into OPSWA