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Response to Bob Kopstein : Real Democratic Reform is Needed .

Marsha Palansky, Harriet Berkal, Harvey Berkal with the Support of the Delegation of Concerned Families posted July 25th,2012


[Editor's note: The following is a response to the article written by Robert Kopstein regarding the selection of Board Members at the Simkin Centre, which can be accessed by clicking here:,_and_other_board_practices]

Response to Bob Kopstein: Real Democratic Reform is Needed



Quote by former judge Robert Kopstein, 2002 FORMER JUDGE ROBERT KOPSTEIN 2002 (from a provincial court hearing)

It’s indeed ironic that Bob Kopstein, who has previously championed the rights of protest, is now being selective in the process, by which those of us who care deeply about our Jewish elderly, are allowed to be a part of a BOARD overseeing their care.

The WHRA hired Peter Kafka, the former head of Vancouver’s Jewish nursing home, which has for years had free elections of board members by the community, to look into issues of governance at the Simkin Centre.
Peter Kafka 's report leans heavily towards a democratic model inviting much more community involvement. Robert Kopstein is trying to turn the tide back in his approach, which essentially ignores the foundations of Kafka's report.
It goes without saying that members of the Winnipeg Jewish community have pressured for new proposals for governance at the Simkin Centre, because the existing system does not allow members of the Winnipeg Jewish Community with legitimate grievances to effectively seek change or otherwise influence the system. Running for democratic election is the only means available to members of the community who want to repair, fix, improve or otherwise better the services provided by the Home. If a member of the community could gather enough support to be elected in a democratic fashion, then clearly he or she is deserving of being on the Board. No nominating committee should be able to insulate an existing Board from public scrutiny and control by preventing certain members of the community, with a different vision, from running for election.
Why has there been pressure for reforming the system of governance at the Simkin Centre, if the engine wasn’t broken in the first place?
Surely as taxpayers alone, we have the right to ask questions regarding the spending of public monies. The Simkin Centre receives approximately $11M in public funding. Yet, they run a closed shop! The Board of Directors nominates and ELECTS its own successors. That’s the opposite of how Jewish nursing homes in Vancouver (Louis Brier) and in Ottawa (Hillel Lodge) operate. Those homes have free elections where the community votes for members of the board of directors.
Now, the Board of the Simkin Centre, in response to community pressure, has completed a Review of Governance. Their recommendations have been published on the Home’s web site (and the relevant sections are reprinted at the end of this response).
But the home is still fighting the simple principles of community democracy. This is no more apparent than with their new façade to invite the participation of the three primary Jewish organizations: The Jewish Federation, Jewish Child and Family and The Jewish Foundation. They propose that those organizations, in turn would, forward names of designated parties to sit on the Simkin Board in the future -parties that have to meet a limited “skills matrix” that the Simkin Centre will be applying. But even then, these proposed candidates would have to be ratified by the Simkin BOARD – the ultimate powerhouse who has final decision. Does this sound like a democratic approach for an institution? Why can’t members of the community come forward themselves and stand for election?
Bob Kopstein has said that prominent members of our community, lawyers and doctors are not prepared to subject themselves to the indignity of running for office. Oddly, the Law Society and the College of Physicians and Surgeons – both self-governing bodies – even have democratic elections within their memberships for their controlling boards. And of course hundreds of synagogues have their members elect their boards. Why in heaven’s name is this board so afraid of the community’s judgment? If they are doing the fine job he suggests, they will readily be re-elected. If not, new people with new perspectives will be brought to bear.
Sadly, the government itself had the right via the PPCO legislation to allow the Minister to walk out a Board and take over as trustee. In the case of Mrs. Peck’s death, this did not happen. (We speculate that with an impending provincial election – this would not have been desirable for them to do so.) BUT after filing a Freedom of Information inquiry – we find that Manitoba Health has NEVER utilized this legislation to the full affect. In  our view, swift action needs to be taken to remove incompetent boards and administrators and replace them with those who are not afraid to clean house and correct urgent problems.
We ask Robert Kopstein how it is that Louis Brier Nursing Home operates so well, given that they offer memberships to the community, which also serves as a fundraiser and democratically build their board? If you are privately funded, then there may be an argument for a closed shop but
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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