2012 BCFGAThe 2012 BCFGA board members in happier times immediately after the election at the 2012 AGM. Kirpal Boparai is sitting in in the centre, lower row.
Kirpal Boparai has finally acknowledged the inevitable, giving up his post as president of the BCFGA board amidst a storm of controversy.
Previously, President Kirpal Boparai appeared to have gone to ground, refusing to discuss allegations he breached his contract and sold his fruit outside of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Co-operative (OTFC). In return the OTFC cancelled his membership and fruit contracts.
Since that story broke in Kelowna’s The Daily Courier in early October other allegations came forward, suggesting Boparai threatened and harassed staff at the OTFC and that he hasn’t properly paid some of his Mexican workers.
As recently as late November, Glenn Lucas, General Manager for the BCFGA said, “Kirpal was elected president and he’s still president. At this point we’re operating normally, but,” Lucas notes, “Kirpal is not responding to the personal allegations.”
Jeet Dukhia is the BCFGA’s vice-president. Asked about Boparai’s performance on the job Dukhia avoided the question, answering, “I wouldn’t take the co-op’s side; I wouldn’t take [Kirpal’s] side because I wasn’t there.” He adds, “What Kirpal or anyone else does is personal and none of my business.”
After the OTFC, which represents 580 grower members, ejected Boparai from the co-op, the members then passed a resolution calling for the BCFGA to fire Boparai as president.
Lucas says the member’s resolution was a suggestion only. “As far as I know the members were advised that the motion is only an advisory to the board and is not binding.”
Boparai says he is stepping away from the position because it is clear he is doing harm to the BCFGA and other farmers.
It seems likely there was internal pressure for him to go.
In the fall each year candidates for the next year’s board are nominated at four meetings throughout the region and the president usually addresses growers on what has happened so far in the current year. This year Boparai was conspicuously absent and the address was made by Dukhia.
Lucas feels the scenario, regardless of the allegations or facts, should be resolved by the membership. “I think the feeling I’m getting is that we need to deal with these things internally and that it hurts us to air these things publicly. There’s a democratic system for the grower members to democratically elect a president and board.”
In spite of the controversy, Boparai says, “Well, I think I have done a couple of the big things that I wanted to do. You know you had people running this industry for 20 years and they didn’t want to change anything and that was huge.”
Boparai says the OTFC board had become complacent and needed to change. Many farmers are frustrated with ongoing low returns for their apples. After the OTFC board was changed CEO Gary Schieck and Operations Manager Rod Vint were immediately let go.
Boparai feels he is responsible for making what he considers a long over due change happen. “The board has changed [at the packing house]. Things weren’t working and when things don’t work, you need to make other changes. Standing up to the board and I don’t think that’s ever been done since I’ve been around and it needed to be done.”
Boparai says his second accomplishment was in securing another $2 million for tree replanting from the government of British Columbia.
Now that’s he is leaving the president’s position, Boparai says, “I will step back from this and move on with my life. The future is bright for me. I have a son who lives at home and in one year he’ll move on to university. I have 80 acres and I want to concentrate on that and spend some more time with my wife.”
For the BCFGA, Dukhia will step into the president’s position until the election of the next board at the BCFGA AGM in January. The position of vice-president will be left vacant until then.■