Chat with Steve Merker of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation

This morning I had a respectful conversation with Steve Merker. Steve is the Vice President of Business Development for The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, where one of his main responsibilities is managing and overseeing The Ride to Conquer Cancer (RTCC).

I reached out to Steve because I am a supporter of the RTCC and I consider them an ally in this campaign. I explained to Steve why I got involved in the Ride and why I thought it was important to start the campaign to drop Enbridge. Steve listened to what I had to say and responded in the following way.

He said that while he respected my position, the RTCC would continue its relationship with Enbridge for the foreseeable future and has no plans to change. He said that the event is costly to operate and that it requires corporate support (undoubtedly true to an extent, but it’s worth remembering that the RTCC operated successfully before Enbridge became its National Title Sponsor). Furthermore, he expressed that there are no other corporations that can support the event in the way that Enbridge has committed.

First, it needs to be said that there’s no way of verifying any of these claims because details of the cost of the event and the contract with Enbridge are all confidential. While I would like to accept everything Steve told me at face value, there’s currently no way of knowing the real numbers. The RTCC should disclose where its money comes from and how it’s spent. That means more than showing how dollars that ultimately go to the PMCF are spent; it means showing a breakdown of event costs and donor contributions. As riders and donors who make this ride possible, we’re entitled to know this information. It’s a simple matter of financial transparency and accountability to stakeholders.

Second, the organizers say they’re always looking for new sponsors. But that raises a basic question: why would they actively look for a National Title Sponsor when one is already in place? Of what little we know about the agreement with Enbridge, we know that it is a multi-year contract. Moreover we can be fairly sure in assuming the contract makes Enbridge the only National Title Sponsor, because that’s the entire point of becoming a National Title Sponsor. Between the safe multi-year contract and the condition that no other company can share the spotlight with Enbridge, the incentive to find a new National Title Sponsor simply doesn’t exist. While I believe the organizers when they say they’re always on the lookout for lower-tier sponsors, the active search for a new National Title Sponsor will only start when there’s public pressure to drop Enbridge. And it defies reason to say there are absolutely no other corporations that would want to attach their name brand to this great cause and pony up for the privilege to do so.

And that’s where this petition comes in! Follow this link to add your support to the campaign to get the RTCC to drop its deal with Enbridge and create the pressure for it to find a new sponsor: http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/end-enbridge-s-sponsorship-of-the-ride-to-conquer-cancer

Steve added that in addition to offsetting some portion of event costs, many Enbridge employees  participate as riders and themselves contribute thousands of dollars to the cause. This is wonderful and I applaud every rider for their dedication. But if the implication here is that these employees would stop riding if Enbridge was no longer the National Title Sponsor, then I would question their motivations for riding and dedication to the cause itself. I’m an optimist, however, and I like to think that these people would continue riding no matter what because they believe in the cause, not because their employer told them to do it.

As an alternative Steve also encouraged me to get involved in cancer charities that focus on awareness. But in the same breath he also said that fundraising for cancer awareness is not as effective as fundraising for cancer research. And I couldn’t agree more, which is why I chose to participate in the RTCC in the first place. None of us should have to choose between supporting the best possible cancer research and supporting a pipeline company that endangers public health by spilling carcinogens into our land and water and contributes through its core business to climate change.

Once again, the petition is available at: http://www.change.org/en-CA/petitions/end-enbridge-s-sponsorship-of-the-ride-to-conquer-cancer

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