[NA-Discuss] Dot.ca manager doesn’t seem to trust Canadians

Glenn McKnight mcknight.glenn at gmail.com
Sun Apr 29 22:21:19 UTC 2012


Dot.ca manager doesn’t seem to trust Canadians
Published On Sun Apr 29 2012

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[image: Image]<http://www.thestar.com/business/columnists/94542--geist-michael>
By Michael Geist<http://www.thestar.com/business/columnists/94542--geist-michael>Internet
Law Columnist

The Canadian Internet Registration Authority, the non-profit agency charged
with managing the dot-ca domain name, has emerged in recent years as an
important voice on Internet governance. Backed by a big bank account — CIRA
earns millions of dollars each year for maintaining the domain name
registry — it has launched an annual Internet governance forum attended by
hundreds of Canadians, partnered with various groups to help small
businesses establish an online presence, and sponsored many Canadian
Internet-related events.

Yet just as CIRA begins to fulfill its potential as an “important public
resource” (as described in its mandate letter from the Government of
Canada), it has proposed a new governance structure that seeks to sideline
the public by limiting the ability to serve on the CIRA board. With more
than a million registrants, CIRA is one of Canada’s largest Internet
organizations and its message to members is clear: we don’t trust you.

One of CIRA’s requirements is to ensure “an appropriate balance of
representation, accountability and diversity on the board of directors for
all categories of stakeholders.” This has proven easier said than done. In
the early years of the organization, there were several board positions
reserved for specific stakeholders, including one position for the public,
alongside the elected positions (I served six years on the board during
this period).

In its first governance overhaul, the reserved positions were dropped in
favour of a dual election slate. A nominating committee was formed to
identify potential board candidates, while CIRA’s members could seek
nomination by obtaining the support of at least 20 other members. The
resulting ballot included positions for both nominating committee
candidates and member-nominated candidates.

CIRA maintains that the process is too long and complex as it takes months
to form the nominating committee, identify board candidates, and conduct
the election. Moreover, participation has been relatively low, leading to
concerns that candidates can get themselves elected to the board with the
support of only a few hundred voters.

While there is unquestionably room for improvement, CIRA’s plans, which are
open for comment until May 2, makes matters considerably worse. The current
proposal seeks to simplify the election process by eliminating
member-nominated board members altogether. Canadians can be considered for
a nominating committee position but the prospect of rallying support from
the membership will be removed.

The new process is certainly simpler — one ballot with a single list of
candidates — but it comes at a high cost by diminishing public
participation. Rather than seeking ways to encourage more Canadians to
become engaged with managing the dot-ca domain, it hopes that increased
backroom engineering of the board will lead to better governance.

There are many ways CIRA could reform its governance process to address the
complexity concerns without eliminating member-nominated board members. For
example, nominating committee participants could be granted three-year
terms (matching board member terms), thereby eliminating the two month
process of filling that committee in most years.

CIRA could also move to a single ballot by combining nominating committee
candidates and member-backed candidates. That approach would address the
confusion associated with the dual ballot and allow CIRA members to vote
for the best candidates, regardless of the source of their nomination.

To address concerns associated with board competence, it could require
candidates to participate in several governance events prior to being
eligible for election, thereby helping to ensure that newly elected board
members hit the ground running.

As CIRA grows and becomes increasingly important within the Canadian
Internet, it should address concerns with board capture and election
apathy. The starting point should be to increase the role of its members,
however, not signal that they cannot be trusted.

*Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce
Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can be reached at or
online at www.michaelgeist.ca.*

Glenn McKnight
mcknight.glenn at gmail.com
skype  gmcknight
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