After a period of tumult, CPPN resets with a new board and big hopes for the future

Published 19, May, 2017

Bob Leahy reports: Canada’s national organization for people living with HIV, the Canadian Positive People Network (CPPN), regroups with new officers, funding on the horizon and fresh hopes

After a period of tumult, CPPN resets with a new board and big hopes for the future

Fresh start

In a widely circulated press release the Canadian Positive People Network, (CPPN), today attempted to put past troubles behind them. 

“The current leadership team acknowledges that the CPPN is faced with many governance and operational priorities and considers this its opportunity to realize change to further strengthen the CPPN’s foundation” it says.

Those challenges include the very public resignations last month of vice–chair Gord Asmus from Ontario, founding director Emerald (Ezzie) Gibson from Atlantic Canada and the well-liked interim managing director, Jeff Potts.

Under the newly announced board structure, Christian Hui, former chair, and Tracey Conway, former board member, will become co-chairs.

Said Hui (below right) to “As a member and elected director of CPPN, I am absolutely excited about the Board’s decision to adopt the co-chair model as it speaks to the value that guides the work of our young network: to strengthen the governance, oversight, and operations of the network; to make an explicit commitment to gender equity, diversity, inclusion; to ensure we can meaningfully engage and consult our diverse community and to address the top priorities that affect us; and to demonstrate that we honour and value collaborative work through shared responsibility and creating a culture of reciprocal mentorship.” 

He went on “being able to co-chair with Tracey during this transition period is truly an honour. Tracey is a highly respected and experienced leader in the community, and a tour-de-force as exemplified through her work with CANOC, CTN, CHIWOS, and formerly with ICW+NA. Sharing the leadership role with Tracey also means that we at the CPPN can ensure a healthy and supportive work environment be established - one where we can commit to working from an anti-oppressive/anti-racist stance and free of micro-aggression and lateral violence. 

He added "co-chairing with Tracey also means we will commit to ensuring we engage in a broader community-wide consultation so we can better guage the needs and priorities of people living with HIV and HIV co-infections as well as relevant stakeholders in the community moving forward.”

The appointment of Hui and Conway as co-chairs has, though. been criticized by two former board members who have challenged the current board’s authority to appoint co-chairs under the organization’s current by-laws. As at publication time, CPPN has yet to respond.

In any event, three new interim board members have come forward. Well known anti-criminalization advocate Chad Clarke from Dresden was appointed to the Ontario seat, Deborah Norris from Edmonton, Alberta fills an at-large seat and Rene Boucher from Thunder Bay, Ontario has been appointed to the Indigenous/Aboriginal Peoples' seat.

Jeff Potts is back, now as Executive Director, responsible for day to day operations. He is currently working on a volunteer basis until at least September 30 at which time a competitive process will determine who takes this then-paid position.

Asked if he wanted the role more permanently, Potts replied “I don't deny it..when I took on the volunteer role of Interim Managing Director, I found myself on the ground-level of something great, and I landed in my dream job. But I also don't make any presumptions about whether I am the best guy for the long-term job. If the CPPN is over the hump of difficult dynamics and organizational challenges, I will throw my hat into the mix for sure... but I recognize that I may have some stellar competition, and I respect that.”

The “difficult dynamics” clearly include quite public tension between then current chair Christin Hui and past chair Ezzie Gibson, one of the organization’s founders.

More money promised

It’s no secret too that CPPN's funding request to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) met with an encouraging response. Details of how much they are likely to get under the Community Action Fund are not being revealed but, says the statement “we are working with officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada to secure an independent five-year Contribution Agreement under the Community Action Fund, through which (if approved) dedicated financial resources will be allocated to the CPPN to support its work with, by, and on behalf of people living with HIV and HIV co-infections until March 31, 2022."

I asked Potts if he could comment more. “I know that there are rumours circulating; that folks are hearing that the CPPN is asking for a million dollars from PHAC” he said. “The CPPN's leadership team is working hard to put together a draft work plan for the next five years and, of course, including a notional budget is part of that effort.  While perhaps not ideal, it is premature to predict what level of funding, if any, will be approved.  But, I can confirm that preliminary figures suggest a five-year budget that is less than a million dollars."

Potts went on "I also want to reassure everyone that, if the proposal is approved, the budget will include significant funds to support ongoing and meaningful engagement with CPPN members, partners, allies and community stakeholders.”

But the future for CPPN arguably looks brighter than it has for some time. Said new co-chair Tracey Conway “I think all places have growing pains and sometimes you just need to push through and know where your supports are. I have always felt there was a need for an organization for and by individuals living with HIV and my belief is that a place that is inclusive of all and brings to the forefront the unique and diverse needs of the community was essential. I have to ensure I do everything I am capable of to make that a reality.“

CPPN is currently working with an independent consultant, at no cost to the CPPN, their statement says, “who specializes in the not-for-profit sector with specific focus on governance functions, and more specifically on navigating interpersonal dynamic issues, and functional leadership and operational issues which affect the work of organizations in this sector.” CPPN has, of course, long been plagued with rumours that the previous board was not getting along well.

The statement goes on “The current leadership team acknowledges that the CPPN is faced with many governance and operational priorities and considers this its opportunity to realize change to further strengthen the CPPN’s foundation.’ It adds “We remain committed to the CPPN, and to its members, partners and allies without condition or compromise. And, we are committed to keeping lines of communication open with you and to connecting with you on a more frequent basis going forward." will continue to follow this developing story.