After a summer of scandal, Hockey Canada faces a “long road ahead” in reestablishing itself as an organization worthy of governing the sport, experts say.
Following months of calls for change, the organization announced Tuesday its chief executive officer is gone and its entire board of directors would follow suit due to outcry over its handling of alleged sexual assault cases.
Hockey Canada now has to find new leadership to enact the reforms many Canadians have been seeking, but finding the right people to oversee that change must be the top priority for the organization going forward, said Richard Leblanc, professor of governance, law and ethics at York University.
“What you don’t want is a new board that has the same problems as the old board,” he told Global News.
“It’s a long road ahead. A lot of reputational damage has been done to our national sport by Hockey Canada, and it’s going to take time to recover. This can be done, but this turnaround will not happen overnight – it’s a matter of months, and that also presupposes that you’ve got the right directors.”
Hockey Canada CEO, board of directors depart organization
After hearing calls for leadership changes for months and seeing its major sponsors and provincial counterparts walk away over the past week, Hockey Canada announced on Tuesday its CEO, Scott Smith, was exiting the organization effective immediately, and that the board of directors would be leaving as well.
As a result, an interim management committee would be created to run Hockey Canada until a new board appoints a CEO to lead the organization, the statement read. Furthermore, Hockey Canada said its current board will ask its members to select a new slate of directors no later than Dec. 17, which is the scheduled date of an upcoming virtual election.
The current board will not seek re-election and will fulfil its “its fiduciary duties until such time as a new board is elected,” the statement said.
Smith and the board’s departures follow that of interim board chair Andrea Skinner and her predecessor, Michael Brind’Amour. They faced fierce criticism for defending the organization over the summer and fall as news broke over Hockey Canada’s handling of alleged sexual assault cases.
Many called for change at Hockey Canada, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said on Tuesday the departures were an “an important step forward,” but added it took too long for Hockey Canada’s leadership to make those decisions.
Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a statement Tuesday the expectation is for Hockey Canada to “actively work towards a team whose expertise will contribute to better support and training for players, and an environment exempt from sexual violence and discrimination.”
Hockey Canada must not only develop exceptional athletes, but “good citizens who respect women, the public and the law,” St-Onge added.
“The case of Hockey Canada shows that the governance and leadership of national sport organizations determine the way cases of sexual violence, abuse and other forms of maltreatment are managed,” she said.
“That is why I am determined to continue to work with partners, including athletes, to reform sport in Canada so that every organization we finance becomes more transparent and accountable.”
New board of directors needs ‘independent voices’
In its statement Tuesday, Hockey Canada said it’s seeking board candidates to “shape the future of the organization,” and encouraged qualified individuals to respond to the call for nominations issued by the independent nominating committee last week.
That nominating committee will have the challenge of finding qualified volunteers who will be committed to the amount of work that’s needed to reform the organization, said Richard Powers, associate professor with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
The nominating committee should seek out candidates who are not all from the hockey world, he told Global News.
“It’s important to have some independent voices around the table, bringing those different skill sets to the table and giving an outside view … I really do think that that led to some of the standoff that really erupted at Hockey Canada,” Powers said.
“The culture outside of hockey had changed dramatically and it obviously had not changed that much within the sport. They’re going to need some independent voices sitting around the table making sure that outside views are heard – outside views that represent the broader sense and broader views of the Canadian community.”
Leblanc agrees. He said board candidates should consist of accountants, governance experts, risk experts, compliance experts and behavioural experts.
The nominating committee should “hunker down” for the next while “to evaluate the resumes of prospective directors and create a robust shortlist that’s defensible, and they should produce a written report on how they did that,” Leblanc said.
“That’s how you get the best board in the country for Hockey Canada.”
‘There is light at the end of the tunnel’
Until a new board of directors is named, the current board should instruct management to preserve all records like emails, texts and documents, Leblanc said. Once a new board is in, it should conduct a full governance review, a financial review and disclosure to relevant stakeholders, he added.
The “real chore” for new leadership will be showing “genuine commitment and interest in addressing these deeply social and cultural issues within the sport of hockey,” said Simon Darnell, an associate professor in the faculty of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto.
“The real challenge for the new leadership will be to show some genuine commitment to tackling these social issues, and be willing to talk about them in open, honest and reputable ways,” he told Global News.
“It’s time now for the insiders, the leaders of these organizations to be having those conversations so that people who want to be involved in the sport can feel confident that these issues are being taken seriously.”
When Hockey Canada made the leadership announcement Tuesday, it said its interim management committee will ensure progress on its action plan, including reviewing and working with the board towards the “full implementation of the independent governance review recommendations” and effective transition to a new CEO and board of directors.
Hockey Canada’s new leadership will have to be committed to reforming the organization, said Powers. With the body at a “turning point,” he is confident there are individuals out there willing to take on the task.
“This is a very tough situation that Hockey Canada finds itself in, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s going to take a lot of work, but hockey is very important to our country,” he said.
“I really believe that Hockey Canada will get back on its feet. I think they’ll find the leadership that they need, and we’ll be proud of the organization once again.”
— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton