Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.)
|| That, a special committee be appointed to consider the status of cooperatives in Canada and to make recommendations by: (a) identifying the strategic role of cooperatives in our economy; (b) outlining a series of economic, fiscal and monetary policies for strengthening Canadian cooperatives as well as for protecting the jobs they create; (c) exploring the issue of capitalization of cooperatives, its causes, effects and potential solutions; (d) exploring whether the Canada Cooperatives Act of 1998 requires updating; (e) identifying what tools the government can use to provide greater support and a greater role to Canadian cooperatives; and that the committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the Official Opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the Chair is from the government party; that in addition to the Chair, there be one Vice-Chair from each of the opposition parties; that the committee have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the committee no later than June 8, 2012; that the quorum of the special committee be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least a member of the opposition and of the government party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the Committee report its recommendations to this House no later than November 30, 2012.
He said: Mr. Speaker, to begin the debate I would like to quote UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in English and in French. In French, to mark International Year of Cooperatives, he said:
|| Les coopératives rappellent à la communauté internationale qu’il est possible d’allier la vitalité économique à la responsabilité sociale.
In English he said:
|| Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility
That is the message of this International Year of Cooperatives.
Given the declaration of the United Nations of 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, I have been appointed as Liberal advocate for co-operatives by the Liberal leader, the member for Toronto Centre, earlier this month. I thank him for that.
The newly created role of advocate for co-operatives is based on openness, collaboration and awareness. It avoids partisanship to the greatest extent possible. It is meant to be a progressive, positive and evidence-based role. I fully intend to promote Canadian co-operatives and their values as well as assist them to the best of my abilities.
Since my appointment a little earlier this month, I have had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the two major national co-operative associations, the Canadian Co-operative Association and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité. I also toured some co-operatives, including an agricultural co-operative, the Coop AgriEst in Saint-Isidore, not far from here, which was established by proud eastern Ontario farmers. This co-operative is doing very well and has increased its sales from $10 million to $40 million in 10 years.
I also had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the new multi-service building of the Coopérative de solidarité multiservices Montauban, in Notre-Dame-de-Montauban, a small town with a population of less than 1,000 located north of Shawinigan. I was there with my Liberal colleague, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. I hope she will have time, a little later this afternoon, to talk more about this town's initiative.
Everything I have learned since my appointment from my meetings, visits, reading and personal experience has been confirmed by survey results published this week by iPolitics.
I quote from the text written by David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. It is as follows:
|| In mid-May, Abacus Data was retained by the Canadian Co-operative Association to conduct a national public opinion survey to understand what Canadians know and how they feel about co-operatives. The results of the survey found a strong appetite among Canadians for the co-operative model and most Canadians, especially in Western Canada and Quebec, are already members of one or more.
|| Here are some of the key findings of the survey: Eight in ten Canadians (83%) said they would prefer to shop at a locally-owned business that shares its profit among member-owners and invests in the local community over a privately owned company that is part of a larger chain and well known throughout Canada. The respondents were told to assume price, service, quality, and convenience were all equal.
|| Over eight in ten Canadians (85%) had heard of a co-operative before, with awareness highest in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and the Prairie provinces.
|| A large majority of Canadians said they were either very or somewhat familiar with co-operatives, including credit unions. Ontarians and Quebecers were the least familiar with them.
|| Only 5% of Canadians were aware that 2012 is the International Year of Co-operatives.
|| The survey also asked respondents to complete an exercise in which they were shown a series of attributes that could apply to a business and asked whether the attribute best applied to a co-operative or another business. The survey found that Canadians clearly distinguish between co-operatives and other types of business.
|| Over eight in ten Canadians believed that co-operatives were better than other businesses in supporting their community’s values, having a democratic structure, supporting their local economy, and selling locally produced products. They were also perceived to be better in how they treat their employees and customers, and in their social and environmental practices.
As the Liberal advocate for Cooperatives, I believe that it is important to reach out, to meet with representatives of organizations, and to get out into the community to have a better understanding of the reality of Canada's co-operatives.
The motion has already been read and therefore I will not read it again. I believe it is quite straightforward.
I would like, however, to highlight that a great advantage of this motion is that it will give Parliament and Canadians and co-operatives across the country the ability to really participate in the International Year of Cooperatives. It will help focus the efforts that would be welcomed, perhaps needed, by the Government of Canada to eventually foster a greater milieu favourable to the co-operative sector.
As members know, co-operatives have long played an important role in the development of the Canadian economy. We need only think of agriculture and the first agricultural co-operatives established more than a century ago.
In a 2009 report from the CCA and the CCCN, two large national co-operative organizations, we learn that agricultural co-operatives in Canada have a long and fruitful history as drivers of rural economies and mainstays of many communities across the country.
I am sure my colleague from Malpeque will have more to say on that subject.
The oldest co-op in Ottawa is Alterna. Founded in 1908 as the Civil Service Savings and Loan Society, it was originally a credit union for public servants. Then, a few years later, the Caisse populaire Desjardins Rideau was created, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary.
In a way, the Desjardins Group, which today has over five million members, mainly in Quebec but also in other parts of the country, started here in this House. When the movement's founder, Alphonse Desjardins, was a clerk in this House, he was working to develop a legal framework that would lead to the creation of co-operatives, particularly financial ones, across the country.
He and his wife Dorimène then moved to Lévis where they started the Desjardins Group, which is now celebrating its 110th anniversary. This is the fifth largest financial institution in the country, which shows the significance of the co-operative movement in Canada.
In recent history, we can talk about housing co-operatives, which are much more than a simple place to live. A housing co-operative is a legal association based on co-operative principles that is formed to provide its members with permanent housing. In Canada, approximately a quarter of a million people live in housing co-operatives, which play a very important role in our economy and our communities.
Here are a few facts to justify setting up a special committee, as requested in the motion, to mark the International Year of Cooperatives.
Today, more than 18 million Canadians are members of co-operatives. This is a very impressive statistic. The website for the International Year of Cooperatives in Canada states that there are approximately 9,000 co-operatives in Canada, including more than 2,200 housing co-operatives, as I mentioned earlier, which are home to more than 250,000 people; there are more than 1,300 agricultural co-ops; more than 650 retail co-operatives; more than 900 credit unions and caisses populaires with close to 11 million members throughout the country; about 450 co-ops offering childcare or early childhood education—these co-ops, by the way, are Quebec's second-largest private employer; more than 600 worker co-ops—owned by the employees—with a total membership of over 13,000; and more than 100 healthcare co-operatives.
Today, co-operatives including credit unions control assets evaluated at more than $250 billion and employ more than 150,000 people. It is well known that the co-operative concept makes it possible to set up the kind of projects that lack the critical mass needed to trigger private sector investment. For instance, at least 2,000 communities are served by at least one credit union. More than 1,100—more than half of those 2,000 communities—have only one financial institution.
This means that 1,100 communities in Canada rely on the co-operative movement for their financial institution.
Here is another important fact: the survival rate of co-ops is higher than that of private sector businesses. In addition, the rate of job creation is extraordinary, as is the solidity of cooperatives during financial crises.
I would like to draw attention to some comments by Jean-François Lisée in an article published in L'actualité dated March 1, 2012. Mr. Lisée underlined the fact that co-ops are more resilient than private sector companies. In fact, among co-operatives, after five years of operation, the resiliency rate is said to be 77% higher than in the private sector, and after 10 years of operation, more than 54% of co-operatives are more resilient than private sector businesses.
The other advantage, of course, is that co-operatives do not relocate. We will never see a co-operative moving its jobs abroad in order to increase its profits, so this means greater solidarity and greater stability in these strong communities that invest in their own future.
There have been examples elsewhere in the world. Mr. Lisée gave the example of Argentina, where, when a business is in danger of going bankrupt or being shut down, the employees and management would be able to make the first offer to buy it and turn it into a co-operative. This interesting initiative was passed in Argentina last June.
Similarly, in France, when there is a public tendering process, a co-operative will win the contract. Those are two examples of countries that realized that having co-operatives and encouraging co-operative development in their country was beneficial.
Unfortunately, it is well known that co-operatives sometimes struggle to get the capital they need to get started and expand. A special committee could examine the cases and the potential solutions. Would it not also be helpful to treat financial investors in co-ops the same way as investors in private companies?
Lastly, as the motion states, the Canada Cooperatives Act was passed in 1998. It may be time to review it.
I believe that the government wants to propose an amendment. We will see about that shortly. However, I think that creating a special committee that would work until November—the motion requires the committee to report in November—would perhaps be the best way to show that Parliament is serious about the co-operative movement. Members must not forget that this movement exists in a number of sectors and not only in industry. It exists in the financial, health, child care and housing sectors. It is important for one committee to focus solely on this issue without having to deal with anything else. A standing House committee could end up examining a bill or House resolution or could end up having to take care of a crisis, and it would have to set aside its examination of this important motion during the International Year of Cooperatives.
That is why I think that appointing a special committee whose mandate would expire at the end of November would be the best way for Parliament and the government to show how serious they are. They should support co-operatives and ensure that, during the International Year of Cooperatives, they can take a closer look to see where it would be beneficial to add new programs, change the conditions of other programs or budget votes so that the co-operative world can benefit from them. We would all benefit from that.
That is what I wanted to say about the motion before us. I hope that the hon. members of the House will look favourably on this resolution, which is not partisan in the least. I have tried to avoid partisanship because I think there are people from all parts of the political spectrum in the co-operative movement. Political allegiances must not get in the way of considering this type of issue.
As parliamentarians, we have to appreciate the initiatives of our communities, appreciate the values they convey and strengthen them.
I hope that, over the course of this afternoon's debate, we will learn that the government has decided to support and vote in favour of this resolution.
Mr. Mike Lake (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of co-operatives to the Canadian economy.
There are around 9,000 co-ops in Canada, with 18 million members and assets of over $252 billion. They make important contributions to the economy across the country and employ approximately 150,000 people.
Our government is squarely focused on the economy. Our government has a plan to create jobs and growth and secure our long-term prosperity. This plan remains our top priority.
In the last six years, we have worked to strengthen Canada's business climate and make it one of the most attractive in the world. We have cut taxes. We have engaged the world to promote freer trade. We have welcomed foreign investors. We have modernized our laws. We have made timely and necessary investments in Canadian industry and infrastructure.
These efforts are working, and they have not gone unnoticed. Both the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecast that Canada will be among the fastest-growing economies in the G7 this year and next. Forbes magazine has identified Canada as the number one destination to do business in the world.
This strong investment climate will benefit the co-operative sector and all Canadians, and it is particularly vital in order to help Canadians successfully navigate the uneven global economic recovery.
Looking forward, we are working to ensure that Canadians remain well positioned to take advantage of global opportunities and to build from a position of relative strength. We have a renowned and robust banking sector. We have been actively engaging international partners to open new markets, and our economy continues to add jobs and inspire growth.
Co-operatives have an important role to play in our economy, generating jobs and growth in Canada and around the world. That is why the United Nations proclaimed 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. The International Year of Cooperatives is a unique opportunity for all co-operatives to promote their achievements and to raise awareness of the co-operative model.
Canadians have been trailblazers in this field. The first credit union in North America, the Caisse populaire de Lévis in Quebec, was founded in 1900 by Alphonse Desjardins. It has expanded substantially over the past century to become the largest co-operative financial group in Canada.
We are taking steps to facilitate continued growth. Building upon our budget 2010 commitment to allow credit unions to incorporate as federal entities under the Bank Act and operate across provinces under one regulatory umbrella, our government is working to bring these provisions into force once regulations are finalized.
Our government fully recognizes the importance of co-operatives, as they generate sustainable jobs and reinforce our economy. We are actively working to contribute to their growth.
I would now like to take a few minutes to talk about how the co-operative model works and the unique role co-operatives play in the Canadian economy.
A co-operative is an enterprise owned by members who use its services. Generally established by a group of people who share a common need, co-operatives allow those people to pool their resources toward a common goal.
Today we find co-operatives across all sectors of the Canadian economy, providing financial services, health care and housing services, to name just a few, in both urban and rural communities.
The Prime Minister put it aptly during National Co-op Week last year, when he said:
|| Co-operatives have helped many people and organizations find solutions to social and economic challenges in their communities...
Indeed, co-operatives are an important part of the Canadian economy. Canadian co-operatives have more than 18 million members. They directly employ approximately 150,000 Canadians and can be found in communities across the country.
Non-financial co-operatives alone do almost $36 billion a year in business. All Canadian co-operatives are estimated to hold more than $252 billion in assets. These assets are owned by the members and communities the co-ops serve.
Lastly, at least seven co-ops are listed in Canada's top 500 companies.
Guided by the principle that members should have democratic control of the enterprise, the co-operative model ensures that each member is an equal decision-maker in the enterprise by using a one member, one vote approach.
This is a fundamental difference between co-operatives and investor-owned businesses, where a shareholder is entitled to a number of votes equivalent to the number and type of shares he or she owns in the company.
Another key difference is in the sharing of the surpluses of the enterprise. Under the co-operative model, the surpluses earned by the co-operative may be paid into the reserve or to the co-op's members in the form of patronage returns proportional to the business that each member does with the co-operative. In contrast, investor-owned businesses may reinvest in the company or distribute profits in the form of dividends according to the rights for each class of shares.
In Canada, co-operatives can be formed under either federal, provincial or territorial legislation. Co-operatives have been operating for over 100 years under provincial authority. In 1970, the federal government followed suit with the Canada Co-operative Associations Act. That legislation was updated in 1998 with the enactment of the Canada Cooperatives Act, which now governs federally incorporated co-ops.
This act recognizes the importance of co-operatives to the economic and social fabric of Canada. Significantly, it was originally drafted by the stakeholders themselves, the two main national organizations that represent co-operatives: the Canadian Co-operative Association and Le Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité.
When the Canada Cooperatives Act was introduced in the House of Commons, it received all-party support. The act received royal assent in 1998 and came into force on December 31, 1999.
I will share a little about how the act works and its key features.
Co-ops that do business in more than one province can incorporate under the federal act. Interestingly, of the over 9,000 co-operatives in Canada, only 76 are federally incorporated.
One of the important features of the 1998 update to the act is that it allowed co-operatives to incorporate as a right. It eliminated the previously existing ministerial discretion. It simplified the complex rules that used to govern the incorporation of co-operatives. Now the act gives co-operatives the capacity, rights, powers and privileges of an actual person, similar to what business corporations have. In short, the 1998 act put co-operatives on a level playing field with other marketplace participants while still protecting their distinctiveness.
As with businesses incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act, co-operatives may incorporate, pass bylaws, elect directors and engage in economic and social activity, depending on their individual mandates. They are businesses just like other types of corporations. Indeed, many co-operatives are extremely successful businesses, having stronger returns on investment than their non-co-op counterparts.
What makes a co-operative different is how decisions are made. In investor-owned corporations, directors are elected by the shareholders. These directors oversee and manage the day-to-day operations of the corporation. The directors make and pass bylaws that drive the corporation's economic success.
Under the co-operative model, the enterprise must be organized, operated and administered on a co-operative basis. Co-ops elect directors just as other companies do, but these directors do not make bylaws, the members do. The members elect the directors and the members control the co-op.
Co-ops, just like other companies, need financing. Co-ops have several options for raising capital. The traditional method of financing co-ops is through the sale of membership shares. The 1998 act provided co-ops with a new financing opportunity. They are now allowed to issue investment shares to the public, just like other corporations, to raise capital. However, these shares do not carry the same voting rights as membership shares in recognition of the principle that members are equal decision-makers in the enterprise.
Of course, this is not the only source of financing available to co-operatives. The government provides financial support for co-ops through a number of agencies, such as the Business Development Bank of Canada, FedNor, Western Economic Diversification Canada and Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, among many others.
Looking out internationally, the government has committed almost $20 million through the Canadian International Development Agency to the Canadian Co-operative Association's program called “sustainable livelihoods through co-operatives”, which aims to promote the co-operative model to support economic growth and improved food security in communities in a number of countries, including Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Here at home, we have invested in co-ops across the country, including over $2 million in the High Prairie Seed Cleaning Co-op in Alberta and $450,000 in the Farmers' Markets Association of Manitoba.
In Quebec, we have contributed over $100,000 to create a new co-op lead interpretation centre of the history of economic and social development of the Gatineau River.
We are supporting the Akulivik Cooperative Association with over $200,000 for the construction of a hotel in Akulivik, which will replace the only hotel in the community and will provide more modern accommodation for business travellers and other visitors to the area.
With these investments, we have recognized that cooperatives can and do operate successfully under the act, and have for over a decade. They contribute to the Canadian economy in a unique way. They are innovative and entrepreneurial. Co-operatives create jobs and fuel economic growth, and this government supports them fully.
The government has been monitoring the Canada Cooperatives Act since its inception. Amendments have been made to it. For example, in 2001, the act was amended to permit electronic communications between members and the co-operative. These actions kept it aligned with our other marketplace framework laws, such as the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act.
However, 14 years is a long time. We need to ensure that our regulatory environment promotes competition, investment and economic growth. Co-operatives are an important part of that growth.
Before I conclude, I have the following amendment to the motion to ensure that this issue is studied in the appropriate committee: That the motion be amended by: (a) replacing the words “a special committee be appointed to” with “the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology”; and (b) deleting in section (e) the following words “and that the committee consist of twelve members which shall include seven members from the government party, four members from the official opposition and one member from the Liberal Party, provided that the chair is from the government party; that in addition to the chair, there be one vice-chair from each of the opposition parties; that the committee have all of the powers of a standing committee as provided in the Standing Orders, as well as the power to travel, accompanied by the necessary staff, inside and outside of Canada, subject to the usual authorization from the House; that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party's members of the committee no later than June 8, 2012; that the quorum of the special committee be seven members for any proceedings, provided that at least a member of the opposition and of the government party be present; that membership substitutions be permitted to be made from time to time, if required, in a manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2).
Ms. Hélène LeBlanc (LaSalle—Émard, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, the lockout of Rio Tinto Alcan employees and the layoff of Electro-Motive Diesel workers in London sends a clear message: it is no longer possible to oppose the economic and sustainable development of our resources and communities.
Responsible economic policy must factor in the environmental and social costs that result from our collective choices. Currently, we risk placing a huge environmental, economic and social millstone around the necks of future generations. On Friday, the government made another clear choice against the interests of communities by reneging on its commitment to work with the opposition and communities to fix some of the weak links in the Investment Canada Act.
The NDP has always been a strong proponent of the co-operative movement, which supports grassroots businesses. These businesses truly understand that their well-being and that of the community are linked. It is therefore quite fitting, in this the International Year of Cooperatives, that I rise to speak to the Liberal Party motion. I also take this opportunity to inform the Speaker that I will have the honour of sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. member for Welland.
Co-operatives have been part of our history for over 100 years. They have helped build our economy and our communities. According to the Canadian Co-operative Association, over 18 million people are members of Canadian co-operatives and credit unions and there are over 9,000 co-operatives in Canada. That means that four in 10 Canadians are members of a co-operative.
According to the Co-operatives Secretariat, co-operatives contribute some $252 billion to the economy, money that does not go to just a few shareholders, but is distributed within the communities they serve. Better still, the co-operative movement creates jobs, employing over 155,000 people.
Canada has many co-operatives, including Co-op, The Co-operators—as the Conservative member just mentioned, UFA, Co-op Atlantic, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Arctic Co-operatives Limited and Vancity. In Quebec, Desjardins, Agropur, the Coop fédérée and many others are among Canada's largest co-operative movements and have become major economic players. This is proof positive that there is strength in numbers. The co-operative movement continues to make a significant contribution to society through the strength of its members and the principles of the movement.
My riding, LaSalle—Émard, is home to a number of innovative and successful co-operatives. They create good local jobs and contribute to economic development in our neighbourhoods. For example, Café Bistro Monk, a fun and friendly place, is doing so much to help revitalize Monk Street. The Coopérative Enfance Famille, which manages the centralized waiting list for child care services in Montreal, Mauricie and central Quebec, helps parents find day care spots and relieves day care centres of some of their administrative burden.
Finally, I should also mention the Coopératives jeunesse de services, which are managed by the Carrefour Jeunesse Emploi LaSalle and the Carrefour jeunesse-emploi du Sud-Ouest and provide summer jobs for high school students. In addition to giving students their first job experience in the community, this excellent initiative also provides young participants with the opportunity to do different tasks and to assume responsibility for managing various contracts, revenues and resources.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to remind you that I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Welland.
The resiliency of co-operatives has been proven. A study by Quebec's department of economic development, innovation and export trade indicates that the long-term survival rate of co-operatives is almost twice—I did say twice—that of investor-owned businesses. That is quite a record.
Co-operatives are democratic enterprises that seek to meet the social and economic needs of their members. The underlying values of the movement are the same ones that the NDP defends: working together and fostering inclusion, confidence and fairness among citizens. Co-operatives will be there to face the ever-increasing challenges of our society by providing an innovative model and real solutions that meet the needs of the people in the community.
For over 20 years, Quebec has had a co-operative investment plan that has helped a number of co-operatives develop and flourish, and has also helped generate $393 million in new investments in co-operatives.
To much fanfare, Canada's Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food recently reaffirmed his government's commitment to the co-operative movement in this International Year of Cooperatives, recognized by the UN. Shortly thereafter, this same minister cut $4 million from the Conseil de développement coopératif and the Co-operative Development Initiative. This hypocrisy inspired Denyse Guy, from the Canadian Co-operative Association, to say:
|| If the government is truly committed to creating jobs and fostering innovation, we can't understand why it would cut a program that cost very little...and made a difference in hundreds of communities across the country.... It created jobs, fostered innovation, and gave co-operatives the ability to leverage additional funds at the provincial and community levels.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that cuts to funding for housing co-operatives and the federal government's withdrawal of support is jeopardizing this type of housing, particularly in my riding. These housing co-operatives are absolutely crucial. They enable low-income families and seniors to live decent lives.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I support the Liberal Party's motion to create a committee that would examine the importance of co-operatives, even though I believe that is already clear. I would like to add that this motion could go much further by getting straight to the point and calling on the government to take action.
The government must start by reinstating the $4 million in funding for the Co-operative Development Initiative that it recently cut. We must work with regional economic development agencies and support the development of the co-operative movement.
The NDP supports the development of a co-operative investment plan that could help rural communities tackle the problem of declining population.
In this International Year of Cooperatives, the very least that Canada could do is to show its good will by supporting these important vectors of our economy and society.
Mr. Malcolm Allen (Welland, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for her great words about the co-operative movement, whether it be credit unions, co-ops in the agriculture sector, or housing.
It reminds me of a family that came here in the early 1960s to work in the shipyards of this great country. The family wanted to buy a house. The parents went to the bank to borrow money. It was a household where one of the parents had worked for a couple of years and had a work history in this country, albeit a short one, because the family had only been here about two years. The parents wanted to buy a house. That house was worth $15,000. Today $15,000 would not get anyone a garage, never mind a house. The family was looking to put down roots. The parents had the ability to pay the mortgage and had a small down payment. They wanted to settle in the community and provide a home for their children.
Those parents went from bank to bank asking for a loan and they were denied every single solitary time, even though there was a work history and an income stream. The head of the family, who was a man, was working in the auto sector at GM and was one of the highest paid factory workers in the Niagara region at the time. He was a skilled tradesperson making a very good wage and working overtime. One day while that man was at work, a gentleman came around and asked him if he would like to be a member of the credit union. The man said it sounded great to him. He had come from a place where the co-op movement was very successful. It was an enlightened movement which a lot of folks participated in, whether it was the co-operative store where people bought their groceries or other co-operative movements to which the man had belonged.
The gentleman signed him up to the credit union and said if the man needed anything, he should come to see him. The man said he wanted to get a mortgage so he could buy a house for his family. In those days that gentlemen would have been called the credit union man. Credit union men signed people up at their places of work. The credit union man would be someone people worked with. The credit union men were workmates of the people who were asked if they would like to join and be part of the co-operative movement.
The man looking for the loan said yes. The credit union man said he would make sure he got an appointment to apply for a mortgage. The man and his wife went to the credit union, asked for a mortgage to buy a small home and the credit union said yes.
Who were those folks? They were my father and mother. They lived in 12 different places. They rented place after place after place and dragged five kids behind them, because they could not find a place to live and the banks would not give them a mortgage, but the credit union would. My father to his dying day said to trust the credit union and the co-operative movement and be leery of the banks. I was then and I am now.
It is not to say that I do not have a bank account. I do, but I have done most of my life's financial work--if I can call it work; it is usually debt when one has children, a mortgage and car loans. Nonetheless, I belong to the credit union. It is a great institution that is going to lose the ability to do that great work because of such a shortsighted government. One would think the government was being asked for hundreds of millions of dollars, when indeed it is a pittance.
I wrote a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food about the CDI. I asked why the government was not going to fund it. Let me read from the minister's response. It stated, “To address the need to reduce the federal deficit, over the past year the Government conducted a comprehensive”--comprehensive, the minister said--“review of direct program spending by federal departments and agencies. As a result...the Co-operative Development Initiative is being discontinued”. That letter to me was signed by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
What comprehensive review? We are actually now being asked to do a comprehensive review of the CDI. I have to thank my colleagues in the Liberal Party for doing that.
I congratulate the member for Malpeque for standing up for co-ops. I know they play an important role in Prince Edward Island and in rural parts right across this great country. When we go to the rural parts of this country, which I know my friend from Malpeque has done, as I have done, when we go to Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, to the northern parts of this country, whether it be in Ontario or in Quebec, and look at what institutions are in those small towns, it is the co-operatives, not the big banks. In the case of a financial institution, it is usually a small credit union. There might be only a couple of folks looking after the place, but I will guarantee that when people walk through that door, they will ask how they are doing and call them by their first name. It is about that connectedness to community.
When people are members of a co-operative, whether it be a credit union, co-operative housing, or whatever it happens to be, they own it. It is not owned by some board members and shareholders somewhere who are looking to extract profit after profit. The profit comes back to the members. What I think is the remarkable thing about co-ops is that the members get to decide what to do with it. They can get the share value back, which happens with many credit unions, or they can reinvest it, as in co-op housing. With co-op housing, if the members decide they need to fix something, they collectively come together and make a decision. There is no one outside who is worried about making an additional five bucks off the backs of folks. They can take that extra $5 and decide to do something with it, which would probably help a lot more folks than just someone putting it in his pocket.
What a remarkable thing. It is absolutely fascinating that folks would want to come together to help one another. Imagine that. We do not hear much of that from the other side. It is a dog-eat-dog world on the other side, it seems, instead of this sense of collectivism.
When we look at collective attributes across this country, one need look no further than the Canadian Wheat Board. What did we see the other side do? The government axed it.
I find it hugely ironic that in the very year which the UN has declared is the International Year of Cooperatives, the minister thinks it is a wonderful thing, makes a great proclamation, makes a nice speech about it, and his very first act around the co-operative movement is to take away the money that helps build it. The minister may want to think about whether he wants to retract what he said about the co-operative movement in the International Year of Cooperatives. Clearly, actions speak louder than words, as one is told. If the action is that the government is going to de-fund it, then perhaps the words were meaningless.
When we look at the co-operative movement, we have to ask ourselves, do we really believe in entrepreneurs? Are entrepreneurs individuals working only on behalf of themselves or their families, perhaps, if we want to use that model? Or can entrepreneurs come together as a collective group and actually work on behalf of each other so that they all benefit?
I would argue they can. I would argue that entrepreneurs are not always single-minded in the sense that they want only themselves to get ahead, through their efforts, whatever those efforts happen to be, whatever endeavour they may take up. In the co-operative movement, there are folks who come together who are entrepreneurial in spirit and in how they want to do things and run a business, but they want to do it as a collective and are happy to share the rewards with others who come together with them to work.
One should celebrate that. One should look at that and see it as another model for economic development. It is important to this country and has a uniqueness in rural Canada that has not gone away. It has taken its lumps and bumps along the way. We have seen a lot of things in rural Canada, in northern Canada and out west on the Prairies. We have seen the demise of some, but we have also seen the growth of many others.
My colleague mentioned some numbers. In this country, there are 18 million members who belong to co-operatives. Nine thousand co-operatives are in housing. Some 2,200 housing co-operatives are home to about 250,000 individuals. There are 1,300 agricultural co-ops.
We talk a lot about agriculture in this House and it seems to me it is a movement that is critical for agriculture producers. Many agriculture producers I have spoken to on the Prairies greatly appreciate those co-operatives. It seems to me that the government ought to rethink. Perhaps we will get a recommendation if we do pass this motion, and I hope we do because we certainly support it. If the committee comes up with a suggestion to reinstate the funding, I would suggest to my colleagues across the way that maybe that is what they ought to do, at least for those in the agriculture sector, where 1,300 agriculture co-operatives do great work on behalf of farmers and those communities.
I encourage the other side to support this motion. Let us get a committee to consider this matter. We would like to see some other things done. Let us see if we cannot restore the funding and the momentum for co-operatives across this country. Let us show them that we believe in them and that we want to help them build because they are important to our communities and to individuals.