Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce executive director and provincial NDP hopeful Patti MacAhonic has offered to resign if she wins the nomination to run in the Chilliwack riding in the spring provincial election.
"I want to take the high road and thank the board and staff for their professionalism, hard work and dedication during my time with them," MacAhonic said in a press release issued Thursday morning.
"The Chamber Board recently shared their concerns with me, that they will be challenged to find a qualified stand-in replacement for the four-month period preceding the actual provincial election. Hence, today, in the best interest of the Chamber membership, I offered my full resignation if I win the NDP nomination, giving up my position as executive director permanently."
On Wednesday, the Chamber clarified its position with regard to an order that executive director MacAhonic should resign if she wins the NDP nomination for the May provincial election.
But, practically speaking, the move meant MacAhonic still had to quit.
Just before she announced her intention to run for the NDP on Monday, the Chamber issued a press release that said MacAhonic would be asked to tender her resignation if she wins the nomination.
A second Chamber release, issued Wednesday afternoon, attempted to clarify that position.
"The Chamber will fully comply with all provisions of the British Columbia Election Act if leave is requested under s. 67 of that statute," the release stated. "The Chamber is a non-sectarian and apolitical organization working on behalf of its members first and has no affiliation with any political party."
Section 67 states that employers are required to grant leave to employees running in elections.
However, the law only applies once the writ has been dropped, which would be April 16 to May 14.
"You don't become a candidate until the election period," Don Main of Elections BC explained.
Given the amount of work candidates have to do in the lead-up to an election, MacAhonic asked the board for a longer leave. She told the Times Wednesday that she was given an ultimatum by Chamber board president Kevin Gemmell to resign by 1 p.m. that day or the Chamber would issue its release.
"I feel like I'm being pushed," she said.
MacAhonic called the decision a double standard since at least two directors did not step away from the Chamber while working on election campaigns in the Chilliwack-Hope byelection last April.
Director Joe Bruno served as BC Liberal candidate Laurie Throness's financial agent for the byelection, and director Jack van Dongen volunteered on BC Conservative candidate John Martin's campaign.
"I'm the only one that has been asked to resign," MacAhonic said. "I just thought it was a double standard."
The Chamber's policy manual states: "Employees and Directors who wish to engage in work for a political candidate or run for public office must resign (or take an approved leave of absence) from the Chamber before doing so."
When asked by the Times Wednesday, Gemmell refused to comment on MacAhonic's situation nor would he comment on the perception of a double standard regarding Bruno or van Dongen.
The Chamber's release did say the decision was purely related to "internal operations and the need to maintain a certain level of staffing."
MacAhonic said she holds no grudge against the Chamber board and that she isn't comfortable that the issue is the subject of news stories.
But she did say the board of directors needs to adhere to its own policy or make a change.
"Some have said if you were of a different political stripe this wouldn't have happened [but] it's really a non-issue. It is what it is," she said.
"They need to clean it up a bit and make sure they follow the policy for everybody otherwise it's a double standard and it appears discriminatory, whether it is or isn't."
In a parallel case, Quesnel Chamber of Commerce executive director Coralee Oakes is running for the BC Liberals in Cari-boo North and has been granted a sabbatical-style leave starting soon and running until after the election.
The Quesnel Chamber does not have a policy in place that orders staff and directors to step down when seeking political office.
Still, Oakes told the Times she was surprised by the Chilliwack Chamber's decision and that people should be encouraged to run for political office.
"Politically, I don't care what party you run for," she said. "I think we should be encouraging people to step up and I think you find the type of people that Chambers attract are community-minded type of personalities that want to make a difference in their communities."
Oakes also wondered where the Chilliwack Chamber's decision might leave them the day after the election.
"If Patti is successful and the NDP get in, where does that leave the Chilliwack Chamber?" Oakes wondered.
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