Cross Country Canada (CCC) has appointed a new high-performance and development advisor, Nic Lemyre, and laid off four staff members, CCC Chief Executive Officer Shane Pearsall confirmed in a phone interview on Thursday.
The news of Lemyre’s hiring came in the form of a press release Thursday morning, two days after four CCC employees — Ivan Babikov, Mike Edwards, Lisa Patterson, and Martine Zilligen — were informed of their release.
Babikov has spent the last two seasons as a national team and World Cup coach, Edwards was the high-performance director for CCC’s Para-Nordic Ski Team, Patterson was a longtime high-performance development coach, and Zilligen has been communications and marketing manager since 2013.
According to Pearsall, the layoffs were a direct result of CCC’s annual operating budget (which covers both able-bodied and para nordic skiing) decreasing from about $4.5 million dollars last year to what he anticipated to be $3.9 or $4 million dollars this year. The budget is not finalized, as CCC is waiting on the amount it will receive from Own the Podium (OTP), a government-backed nonprofit, which Pearsall estimated to be about 20 percent of CCC’s operating budget. That final amount is expected by mid-July, he said.
Fifty percent of CCC’s budget comes directly from the government branch of Sport Canada, and that amount has been determined, Pearsall said. He explained that money is tighter on the whole for CCC as a result of decreased government funding and sponsorship revenue.
One of CCC’s main sponsors, Mackenzie Investments, will no longer support nordic or four other snow sports as it had previously. Instead, the investment firm opted to stick with freestyle and alpine.
“From the standpoint of a sponsor, they were one of our bigger ones,” said Pearsall, CCC’s CEO since November 2016.
On the upside, he explained that another sponsor and investment firm, Haywood Securities, has agreed to sponsor the NorAm circuit as it has in the past.
Asked if budget cuts were among the biggest challenges affecting CCC at the moment and the reasoning behind the latest layoffs, Pearsall said, “Yes. If things had stayed the same that would’ve been good, but obviously that’s not the case.”
He added that CCC is faced with the ongoing challenge of competing with other sports for the support of “corporate Canada”.
“At the same time, we continue to talk to people and try to get them on our side to become part of our programs,” Pearsall said. “There’s a part of it where it always will be the challenge. You’re always looking for money for places to spend the money, and we just continue on trying to get more money.”
Asked specifically why CCC chose to release those four employees, Pearsall said, “Just trying to create a better future, efficiencies that we think we can find. It’s appropriate that at the end of the quad [Olympic quadrennial], you look at things and how to set the stage for the next quad. And even for us, we were looking at 2026. So we’ve decided this the way we’re going to go.”
CCC now has a staff size of 12. Louis Bouchard retained his job and is listed on CCC’s website as its lone national ski team/World Cup coach. Bouchard is also Alex Harvey’s personal coach and head coach of the Pierre-Harvey National Training Centre (Centre National d’Entraînement Pierre-Harvey) in Quebec.
Pearsall said he broke the news to Babikov, Edwards, Patterson, and Zilligen individually during one-on-one meetings on Tuesday.
“It’s one of those things, when you do a change, you tend to want to something like this all at one time, and that’s the strategy we executed,” he said.
CCC will be looking to replace Babikov’s position as co-World Cup coach through an “open job search,” Pearsall stated. As for Patterson’s role as a NextGen coach and development trip leader (for international competitions including U23 and Junior World Championships), Pearsall was unsure if CCC would fill that vacancy.
“When something like this happens — I’ve been involved in the corporate sector — you do a bit of a reshuffle on responsibilities, so we’re working on those on how we’ll go about that,” he said. “At this point in time, I can’t say we’ll necessarily hire somebody in that specific area, but we’re looking at how we cover responsibilities.”
As for the timing of these layoffs in early June, two months after the end of the season, Pearsall said that was a tough one.
“Can you ever find perfect timing? There’s questions about that, but this is the way we decided to go, and we’re going to make the timing work,” he said. “… This is the way things lined up. This is the way we’ve gone about it.”
According to Babikov, the layoff, which was effective immediately, caught him off guard.
“I had no idea it was coming, and it didn’t cross my mind that something like this would happen because we had already started the new summer,” Babikov said on the phone on Thursday. “I just came back from training and our CEO just called me for a meeting, and I thought it was regarding our new HPD, if we hired somebody, but then he just handed me papers and I was told to leave my credit card and keys, and we go separate ways. And that’s all that was said.”
Babikov, who’s been part of the Canadian national team for the last 10 years, first as a two-time Olympic athlete and then as a coach starting in June 2016, said there was no notice. “It was without a cause,” he said.
Asked why Babikov was fired, Pearsall said he couldn’t comment.
Lemyre as the high-performance and development advisor will fill the roles previously held by Edwards and Thomas Holland, the former high-performance director of able-bodied cross-country who retired at the end of last season. A Montreal native who is primarily based in Norway as a professor of sports psychology at the University of Oslo, Lemyre will work part time for CCC.
He’ll be the head of one of CCC’s two new departments, Pearsall explained, overseeing the sport side of the organization while Pearsall and Megan Begley, CCC’s operations & strategic development manager, oversee operations. Lemyre will make decisions in his department, but Pearsall will have “final approval on all personnel decisions”, according to CCC media relations consultant Chris Dornan.
Dornan clarified that Lemyre is “advising on the rebuild” and that CCC will communicate the structure of its high-performance department in the near future.
“His role is going to be advising us, going forward, on how we should look at things, and develop things,” Pearsall said of Lemyre. “He’s going to be an integral part of the decisions we make, in different areas, in the high-performance area. He will be overseeing, in the re-org, I’ve basically created two departments. One is operations, and one is sport. He will be in the mix on the sport side. Under the old structure, there was a para-nordic [director] and there was an able-bodied [director], and I’ve brought those two together to gain efficiencies and exchange more knowledge, if you will, between the two sections of para and able.”
— Gerry Furseth contributed