Did you know that 18 million Canadians are a member of at least one of the 9,000 co-operatives across this country? In fact, many members themselves might not even realize that they belong to one. I’m hoping that we can change this during Co-op Week in Canada which runs from October 14-20. This year’s celebration is especially significant since 2012 is the International Year of the Co-operative.
The co-operative model has proved highly capable of meeting people’s needs where the private sector does not foresee a high return on equity. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has said, “co-operatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility.”
Last Spring, as the Liberal Party’s new Advocate for Co-ops, I got Parliament to create a special co-operatives committee to study the sector. We found that co-operatives, particularly new ones, have trouble accessing capital to expand and that governments can play an important role in bridging that gap.
A little government funding can leverage big results in the co-op community. In 1986 the federal government provided $10 million to help capitalize the Arctic Co-operative Development Fund. Over the past 26 years it has advanced over $500 million in financing to Member Co-ops that built up essential services for northern communities, everything from delivering food and fuel to television broadcasting.
Unfortunately, the federal government has decimated its funding for Co-Operatives, eliminating the Co-operatives Initiative and gutting the Rural and Co-operative Secretariat.
The full report and a reply by the Liberal Party are available at http://lpc.ca/4o5d. If you support the findings and think the government should once again enthusiastically support co-operatives, please let your MP know!
I encourage everyone to participate in this year’s Co-op week by taking a close look at some of the co-operatives that serve their communities and perhaps even joining one.