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Pandemic Poses Unique Problems for Planners

Pandemic Poses Unique Problems for Planners HEADER

By: Melanie Hudson | Apr 20, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada last month, event planners from coast to coast were grappling with whether to cancel, postpone or transform their upcoming meetings. For those with gatherings scheduled in March and early April, the decisions were mostly made for them, as municipal, provincial and federal governments enacted travel restrictions and made it illegal for large groups to meet in person. But what about those of us with meetings later in the year?

Melanie Hudson Banner

At the National Association of Federal Retirees, where I am the Events Planning and Facilities Officer, we are still in waiting mode when it comes to our annual meeting of members (AMM) scheduled to take place at the Hilton Lac-Leamy the week of June 8. The Québec government currently has banned meetings only until the end of April. If our Board of Directors decides to pull the plug on the AMM, our contract with the hotel specifies a cancellation penalty of almost $200,000! Meanwhile, the Association’s federally incorporated by-laws stipulate that we must hold our annual meeting by June 30 and conduct specific business including appointing next year’s financial auditor, electing directors and voting on proposals. Our legal counsel is preparing an application to Corporations Canada requesting a meeting extension, but we have no guarantee when we will receive an answer and what it will be.

To further complicate matters, our 175 participants are primarily retirees who do volunteer work for us throughout the year. Statistics show that coronavirus poses more health-related risks for those in the higher age brackets. Even if we could hold our regular meeting in June, would our attendees be willing and able to board planes and travel here for four days? Furthermore, if we do receive permission to postpone, the Hilton has advised that it currently does not have the required meeting space later in 2020.


I am now working with our audiovisual provider, webcaster and interpreters to devise innovative ways to conduct the critical business electronically however, there are some hurdles to overcome such as: the six Canadian time zones; providing all proceedings simultaneously in both official languages; and above all, our weighted voting system which gives each of the 93 voting delegates between 1 and approximately 34,000 votes, depending on the membership base of the local branch they represent.

Lira Banner

At the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees (UCTE), Lira Buschman, CMP, Communications & Special Projects Officer, worked quickly in March and managed to get permission to postpone its triennial convention for up to 200 people. The independent family-owned Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton agreed to transfer the contract from July to November. The program will be shortened, and regrettably, the off-site activities and banquet will be cancelled.

Buschman says that the purpose of this meeting is to set the budget and direction for the next three years, elect its leadership and vote on resolutions to take to the Public Service Alliance Convention (PSAC) in May 2021. The UCTE is one of 16 components that hold their meetings in 2020 to prepare for the very large PSAC event next year. Cancellation is not an easy option for these groups that represent 180,000 employees, because they meet only every three years as it is. For these unions, the pandemic could have a disruptive cascading effect on its meetings for more than 12 months, even if the physical distancing is over by summer.

Dianne Dodds Banner

The challenge at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada takes on a different alarming twist. As Dianne Dodds, CMP, Manager, Event Management and Hospitality Services explains, the Royal College usually conducts two days of written medical exams in 16 cities concurrently in both March and April, as well as 12 weeks of applied and practical exams held at the Royal College and  Collège La Cité in Ottawa, involving approximately 2,700 candidates and 1,000 examiners. Due to the pandemic, all of these certification exams have had to be postponed; once the complex schedule is finalized the staff will be searching for new spaces in the fall. Finding a replacement for La Cité will be next to impossible because schools will likely be back in session and hotels may not have the multitude of rooms required during the busy fall season.

Dodds says that the Royal College has also cancelled or postponed 100 other meetings and workshops until the end of May, as well as a conference in October. A decision will be made soon on meetings scheduled for June. A task force has been set up to make recommendations on what to do about the 1,800-person International Conference on Residency Education scheduled for September in Vancouver.

empty room

Many planners are busy now dealing with this unprecedented global situation, and we have different challenges depending on the nature of our meetings, the participants, the specific venues and the legal requirements. Please leave a comment below about what unique obstacles your business must address to hold its meetings when most everyone must stay at home except for essential activities.

Melanie-Hudson-headshot-2019 Article prepared by: Melanie Hudson, National Association of Federal Retirees



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