After this weekend, there’s going to be a new president/chairman of Cross Country Canada’s Board of Directors after Richard Lemoine stepped down from the volunteer position a few weeks ago.
“I was asked not to run,” Lemoine explained on the phone Tuesday from Mississauga, Ontario, where he works as a partner with the chartered accounting firm, Lemoine Hyland LLP.
Acting chair Jim McCarthy, Lemoine’s predecessor who served four consecutive years (two terms) as CCC president/chair from 2008 until 2012, said on the phone Tuesday that Lemoine’s resignation was “not really anticipated, but it happened.”
“There was a difference of opinions as to how CCC should move forward and he felt he didn’t want to continue under those circumstances,” McCarthy added.
President of the board since 2012, Lemoine said he chose to resign rather than not be reelected for a second term by CCC’s division chairs and board members at their Annual General Meeting (AGM), an open board meeting, this weekend in Canmore, Alberta. He’ll be in attendance, however, but will no longer hold a position on the board.
“It really came down to where the board should have influence,” Lemoine said. “We’re a policy board and the model … some people think we should be running under is the Carver model, which has been described as nose in, fingers off.”
He explained that this system, also known as policy governance, as “something that’s loved by executive directors, but I believe at the end of the day the board is going to be held accountable so they should be more knowledgeable and involved in the day-to-day process.”
Accountability arrived front and center after the Sochi Olympics, a time in which CCC’s decision makers looked at their athletes’ results and lack of medals and decided it was time for change. In April, CCC hired Tor-Arne Hetland, a Norwegian Olympic gold medalist and former Swiss sprint coach, to help head up its World Cup Team.
Lemoine said he advocated developing a stronger, domestic-coaching model, while acknowledging there were two sides to any decision and adding, “It’s not a decision for the board to take, but from a policy point of view, we need to make sure that we are preparing our domestic coaches for the top coaching positions.”
But he and CCC’s Executive Director Davin MacIntosh often did not see eye to eye, Lemoine said.
MacIntosh wrote in an email that he declined to comment.
“There have been a number of areas of tension between Davin and I,” Lemoine said. “He was not pleased when I was proclaimed president.”
There was a fundamental disagreement over what constitutes policy decisions — which the board should oversee — and operations decisions— which the executive director is responsible for, he explained.
“Certainly post-Sochi I didn’t think the hard questions were being asked,” he added. “For example, I look at what the U.S. has been able to do over the last four years, converting athletes to the World Cup… and I look at that and say we could do better.”
Yes, Canada’s seen unprecedented success in recent years, Lemoine said, but the nation’s athlete-feeder pipeline is dwindling.
“We came out of our high-performance meeting this April not being able to fill our spots for training centres and having to decide to stop supporting the Callaghan Valley Training Centre as there weren’t enough athletes to go around,” he said. “Certainly the depth of talent is not what we want it to be … We are generally seeing a drop in retention rates of our athletes once they graduate from high school.”
He pushed for Canada to fill its World Cup quota and bring the next tier of the best domestic racers over to Europe. With that comes costs, and likely struggles, but Lemoine pointed out that’s how Canada’s Olympic gold medalist Beckie Scott got her start — getting crushed by the competition.
“You send them to Europe, you support them right, give them the best chances you can, and they see what the difference is,” Lemoine said. “We know our skiers are skiing slower than their European counterparts.”
When it came to hiring coaches or restructuring the staff, Lemoine said, “that’s definitely getting past to where the board should be.” But he did look at the athlete-development system on the whole, and ask what direction it was trending in.
“In my opinion we had a horrible Olympics; seventeenth was our best finish,” he said. “So you then ask the question, I like to quote Einstein: [insanity is] if you do ‘the same thing over and over again and expect different results’… Don’t come back with the same team because something’s gotta change. That’s where our executive director thought I was crossing the line.”
Two weeks ago, Lemoine said the provincial and territorial directors met to consider the situation before the AGM on June 14.
“They sided with Davin and decided it would be best if I stepped down,” Lemoine said.
While CCC presidents can run for back-to-back two year terms, McCarthy is the only one who has held the position for four years, Lemoine said. At the request of the provincial chairs, Lemoine agreed to step aside rather than stay at the helm until this coming Sunday, when he would have likely been officially voted out.
“I know all of these people; I am going to stay involved in the sport,” he said. “I’m going to be the chief of competition at this year’s trials races for World Juniors/U23 Championships. I would have nothing to gain other than saying it’s going to protect my reputation a little bit … the sport is more important. I learned a long time ago that it’s all about the athletes.”
According to McCarthy, who served as CCC Ontario chair before becoming president in 2008, he’s known Lemoine for “a dozen years” and observed, “he’s a pretty strong-minded character, works hard, has his own vision of things.”
“I would have nothing to gain other than saying it’s going to protect my reputation a little bit … the sport is more important. I learned a long time ago that it’s all about the athletes.” — Richard Lemoine, President/Chair of Cross Country Canada’s Board of Directors from 2012-2014
“The two of us worked well together, but occasionally clashed and … that’s what Richard’s about — he’s made a big contribution,” McCarthy said. “Like all volunteer organizations, it depends inordinately on a relatively small number of volunteers that put out.”
At the end of the day, however, and on what McCarthy called an ongoing basis, “the executive director is more important to the operations of CCC than the board chairman.”
In the last few weeks since Lemoine resigned, McCarthy has been filling in as chair, but said he would not be up for another term as president. As of June 4, no candidates had been nominated for the position, but McCarthy said they could be chosen and subsequently elected this weekend. Candidates do not have to be current members of the nine-person board.
Lemoine’s involvement with CCC dates back to more than a decade ago, where he remains treasurer of the CCC Ontario board. From 2003-2004, he served as a director-at-large under CCC’s former structure and chaired the marketing committee from 2003 until 2005. That year, the structure of the board changed, and Lemoine went on to run three times to be a director-at-large from 2006 to 2009. He didn’t win, but was ultimately appointed to the board after his third failure, he said.
“Oddly after being rejected three times as a director at large, the same people acclaimed me as president,” he said. “Dave Rees who was also acclaimed as president in 2006 also failed to win a position as a director-at-large at a previous AGM.”
McCarthy explained that the board is made up of nine people: a chairman, six directors-at-large, one director representing the chairs of the provincial and territorial divisions, and an athlete director, “preferably an active athlete who tries to represent that perspective.” The divisions meet once a year, and the board meets three times annually, including at the AGM. They also check in via monthly phone meetings.
The board hires and oversees an executive director who’s responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization. The executive director reports to the board “usually by monthly meetings, usually by telephone,” McCarthy said. MacIntosh was hired by CCC in 2009 and will retain his position in the immediate future, McCarthy said.
Asked about the level of stress within the organization the last few months since the start of a new Olympic cycle, McCarthy said, “I’d say it’s pretty close to the same level of stress [as usual]. Everybody in this business is pretty passionate. People develop strong viewpoints of how things should be done.”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.