The Hope for a Federal Co-op Development Strategy

Danielle Potter

Much attention is focused this week on Motion M-100, which asks Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) to establish a national co-operative development strategy in Canada. The motion passed unanimously in the House of Commons on 5 April 2017, sending a clear message to the Government of Canada.

Motion M-100 was tabled on 29 November 2016 by Alexandra Mendès, member of Parliament for Brossard–Saint-Lambert. The text of this motion reads as follows:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the important role co-operatives play in the economy and ensure that they continue to thrive by taking concrete steps such as: (a) developing, in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous communities and the co-operative sector, a federal co-operative strategy to promote and support Canada’s co-operative sector; and
(b) providing periodic progress reports on pre-established goals and targets.

In her speech that opened the debate for Motion M-100 on 13 February 2017, Mendès discussed the need for more reliable co-operative statistics: “Currently, data and accessibility to statistics on co-ops are unreliable and incomplete. Centralizing the data would be a tangible step to help co-op leaders make sound decisions. The most recent studies and research posted under ‘Co-operatives policy’ on the government site are not current. In fact, the most recent study dates from 2012, but there is nothing after that.”

Given these comments, it is fitting that in the lead-up to the vote on Motion M-100, ISED published up-to-date (2009–2016) provincial and national statistics on the number of co-operative incorporations as well as the total number of nonfinancial co-operatives.

The newly published data provide some insights into what is happening with co-operatives in Canada. Overall, the number of co-ops declined during the 2009–2016 period, driven mainly by a decrease in the number of these organizations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. In contrast, numbers have increased in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the Yukon.

While we welcome the release of this data, the Government of Canada will have to do something more if it is going to develop an effective national co-operative strategy. These statistics do not tell us what types of co-operatives have been formed, or why. Nor do they tell us what is behind the dissolutions, mergers, and amalgamations that have reduced co-op numbers. Does this type of activity make the sector weaker by reducing services, or does it actually maintain and enhance service, thus making the sector stronger? In addition, the data gives us no information about the impact of co-operatives on their members and on the communities in which they reside.

Better knowledge about what is going on in the sector would be a good first step, but further components will be required if the sector is to prosper. Mendès suggested three: “The first one would be to develop a co-operative investment strategy. Second would be to ensure equitable access to funding for co-operatives. Third would be to establish a legislative framework to enable financial and non-financial co-operatives to do business and grow the sector.”

In the words of David Lametti, parliamentary secretary to the minister of ISED, co-operatives are “well-positioned to be key players in the future of innovation in Canada.” While this is a significant acknowledgement from the government, concrete action is necessary if Canada’s co-operatives are to be truly promoted and supported. The key features of a federal co-operative development strategy should include more detailed, comprehensive data as well as the components recommended by Alexandra Mendès. The Government of Canada has a timely opportunity here to demonstrate a genuine commitment to a business model that has the potential to greatly increase the prosperity of the country.

Danielle Potter is a communications specialist at the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives.

Find further reading here.

Watch Mendès’s full speech here.

On 24 March 2017, the House of Commons debated MP Alexandra Mendès’s Motion M-100 in support of co-operatives. You can watch it here.

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