Evidence of meeting #3 for Special Committee on Cooperatives in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cooperatives.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Claude Carrière  Associate Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
  • John Connell  Associate Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy Sector, Department of Industry
  • Jeremy Rudin  Assistant Deputy Minister, Financial Sector Policy Branch, Department of Finance
  • Denyse Guy  Executive Director, Canadian Co-operative Association
  • Marion Wrobel  Vice-President, Policy and Operations, Canadian Bankers Association
  • Stephen Fitzpatrick  Vice-President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer, Credit Union Central of Canada
  • Nicholas Gazzard  Executive Director, National Office, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada
  • Frank Lowery  Senior Vice-President, Senior Counsel and Secretary, The Co-operators Group
  • John Taylor  President, Ontario Mutual Insurance Association
  • Michael Barrett  Chief Operations Officer, Gay Lea Foods Cooperative Ltd.
  • Bob Friesen  Farmers of North America

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Wayne Marston Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, ON

Being new to the committee I don't want to be barging in on this, but I'm on the finance committee and the correspondence that comes to the finance committee is shared with the whole committee.

I'm a little surprised that this has.... Has this been the past practice of this committee, that certain things are edited out without the other members even seeing them?

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blake Richards

Again, I think we are getting into an area here that should be kept to committee business. We do have time at the end of the meeting for that, and I would ask that members keep that in mind.

10:05 a.m.

An hon. member

But we have the witnesses here, Mr. Chairman.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blake Richards

Understood, and that's why I would like to make sure that we have an opportunity for the witnesses to share their testimony with us. If there is something that they would like to discuss with the committee, the time will be theirs to do that. I would ask members that we allow them that opportunity and save matters of this type for committee business, which we do have time for at the end of the day. So I will ask that to be done.

We will move to our panel now. We do have three individuals here. Our first individual will be Denyse Guy from the Canadian Co-operative Association. Then we'll have the Canadian Bankers Association, and Credit Union Central of Canada.

We do have two individuals who we expect at some point. Mr. Laframboise will join us as well, but we do currently have Mr. Fitzpatrick. I will allow each organization ten minutes for their opening remarks, and then we'll move to questioning.

I will call first upon Ms. Guy.

10:05 a.m.

Denyse Guy Executive Director, Canadian Co-operative Association

Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. My name is Denyse Guy, and I am the executive director of the Canadian Co-operative Association, which is referred to as CCA.

I wish to begin by thanking you for inviting CCA to participate in these historic committee hearings into the cooperative sector. It is fitting that these hearings are taking place in 2012, as this year has been declared the International Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations General Assembly.

The UN has asked all member states to take measures that will create a supportive environment for the development of cooperatives. The committee overseeing Canada's participation in the International Year of Cooperatives, which includes leaders of the Canadian cooperative sector, as well as the executive director with the federal government's rural and cooperatives secretariat, has established three goals for 2012: the first is to increase public awareness of cooperatives and the economic and social contribution of the cooperative business model; the second is to support the growth and sustainability of cooperatives; and the third is to create legacy initiatives that will live beyond December 31, 2012.

The Canadian Co-operative Association is a national organization representing cooperatives and credit unions in Canada. These hearings will hopefully provide an answer to the question of why the co-op sector needs a strong partnership with the federal government.

As you know, there are 9,000 cooperatives in Canada, representing 18 million members and over 150,000 jobs. The cooperative sector is well entrenched in our Canadian landscape and touches every corner of our country. Cooperatives can be found in different regions and different sectors in Canada.

I want to share with you some well-established cooperatives across this country who are members of CCA and who are not represented here today.

Arctic Co-operatives Limited—and you may have seen them on the CTV morning news in the last two days—is a service federation that is owned and controlled by 31 community-based cooperative business enterprises located in Nunavut and Northwest Territories. Arctic Co-operatives coordinates resources, consolidates purchasing power, and provides operational and technical support to the community-based cooperatives that provide food retail stores, gas bars, hotels, and arts and crafts marketing.

Federated Co-operatives Limited is a multi-faceted organization. It is owned by approximately 235 retail cooperatives located throughout western Canada. These co-ops are the member owners. Federated Co-op provides central wholesaling, manufacturing, marketing, and administrative services to its member owners, in the form of feed plants, food stores, petroleum operations, and a refining facility.

Co-op Atlantic is the second largest regional cooperative wholesaler in Canada and the largest co-op in Atlantic Canada. Based in Moncton, New Brunswick, Co-op Atlantic is owned by more than 100 cooperatively owned businesses. Co-op Atlantic provides food, agriculture, energy, social housing, and real estate services to organizations and businesses in more than 150 communities.

These are the large, established cooperatives, and when we talk about cooperatives there are all different sizes and shapes. If you look in your ridings, we see many co-op forms, from agriculture to housing, day care to groceries, health services to water supply, to radio stations and manufacturing. The list is long. The possibilities are endless. They are already working in your backyards.

With regard to innovation, it happens in cooperative models every day. Not only are co-ops working in your ridings and helping your constituents, they are developing innovative ways and meeting unmet needs for your communities and the citizens you represent. The cooperative model of ownership is flexible, resilient, responsive, and adaptable enough to respond to the concerns of local communities.

One example of this innovation is Aashiana day care, in Ajax. This co-op provides day care to members who are new Canadians, and it allows women to achieve economies of scale through purchasing food in bulk, sharing administrative and marketing costs, and accessing professional development.

HealthConnex, which is in Truro, Nova Scotia, is changing the focus of doctor–patient relationships from sickness care to actual health care. Through various web-based services, HealthConnex is providing doctors with more time to concentrate on wellness and keeping people healthy.

Modo, the car co-op in Vancouver, which is the largest in Canada, is now 15 years old. It's a not-for-profit car sharing cooperative, which was incorporated in 1997 to foster car sharing and raise awareness about the benefits of sharing cars over individual ownership.

These are just some examples of innovation. Cooperatives are economic engines of the Canadian economy, and we heard that previously in our three other talks.

Cooperatives have a unique governance model, but they are also businesses. As businesses, they provide needed services to their members and to all Canadians. They employ Canadians: 150,000 jobs. They contribute to job creation. There are at least 2,000 communities with at least one credit union or caisses populaires, and more than 1,100 communities in which a financial cooperative is the only financial service provider.

Cooperatives make money. They have $330 billion in assets. They pay taxes. The Income Tax Act does not favour cooperatives over other types of corporations. Whether you are a wheat pool, a dairy co-op, a retail co-op or a co-op wholesaler—all pay income tax at the same rates and with the same rules.

Cooperatives foster and create innovation—I have shared with you lots of different types of models. Cooperatives share good governance. They are democratically controlled enterprises designed to meet the economic and social needs of their members.

Cooperatives are non-partisan. Cooperatives are a proven tool for mutual self-help, allowing people to work together towards common goals. Members are from all political parties.

Co-ops are a unique form of enterprise. They have been an economic force for over 100 years. They built Canada. They have been instrumental in building communities from coast to coast to coast. A cooperative is a business—a business with a difference. They are community-based and values-driven enterprises that care not only about the bottom line but also about the needs of their members and the quality of life in their communities. A cooperative is jointly owned by the members who use its services. All members of co-ops are equal decision-makers in the enterprise, using a democratic system of one member, one vote. These are values we cherish as Canadians.

In turn, all members share the benefits of cooperation based on how much they use the cooperative service.

The development process for a co-op is not an easy one, believe you me. I have been involved with it for years. There is no single co-op development guide that will answer all questions. Unfortunately, available federal business services are not meeting the needs of the sector. Yes, we have a book and lots of services, but it's not meeting the needs of the sector.

The cooperative model as a way of doing business is not readily recognized within the government's language on business. However, the survival rate of co-ops is higher than that of traditional businesses—we heard that previously. Two studies done in Quebec and studies done in B.C. and Alberta have given the statistics for the survival rate of cooperatives.

Our sector is not looking for handouts or special treatment. Our sector simply wants to access what other Canadian businesses already have available to them. At the same time, understand that our business model is unique.

Cooperatives have positive relationships with the government. The cooperative landscape has recently changed, and so has our way of thinking. As part of the deficit reduction action plan rolled out in Budget 2012, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada reduced spending by 10%. We all know this. It has cut the CDI program and downsized Canada's role in the cooperatives secretariat.

The cooperatives sector understands why these cuts were needed and supports the government's efforts to balance the budget. These cuts do not signify an end to the cooperative sector's relationship with the federal government but rather an opportunity for a new direction.

So what are the difficulties for cooperatives trying to obtain federal financing? Because of its unique ownership, a cooperative is distinct from other small and medium-sized businesses. When we compare the two models, we see where the difficulties present themselves for co-ops when trying to access current federal funding and programs available to SMEs. Newly developing co-ops don't have access to equity or established business track records, and as a result they tend to fall through the cracks. This is also partly due to the fact that people managing the mainstream business support programs have limited knowledge and understanding of co-ops and how they operate.

Access to financing for cooperative enterprises has been an age-old problem. So much so that many cooperatives have given up trying to work with the federal government. Some of the main issues that impede cooperatives from accessing federal funding and programs are a lack of understanding among government staff as to what a co-op is. Most don't see it as a serious business model. In its language, current federal programming refers to corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships, and not-for-profits, but rarely cooperatives.

There is a lack of understanding of ownership. A cooperative is an enterprise owned by the members who use its services, purchase its goods, transform its products, or who are employed there. The inability of co-op members to provide personal guarantees is seen as lacking in security. Co-op applications don't fit easily in the boxes of government programs, which are mainly designed for private businesses. If you don't fit the box, you don't qualify.

A new home is needed at Industry Canada. Agriculture and Agri-food Canada has historically been the federal department responsible for cooperatives. The cooperative sector would like to see Industry Canada as the federal department responsible for cooperatives. The diversity of the cooperative sector aligns much better with Industry Canada compared to its current home at Agriculture.

The partnership between Agriculture Canada and Canada's cooperative sector has been a good one, but the sector goes far beyond agriculture and farming. Cooperatives operate and employ many different industries, such as retail, manufacturing, financial services, insurance, housing, health care, social services, natural services, utilities, energy and water, transportation, professional technical services, and cultural and tourism sectors.

A partnership between Industry Canada and the cooperatives sector is a natural fit. The cooperative model can help not only Industry Canada but all federal departments, agencies, and crown corporations to implement their policies. We suggest applying a cooperative lens to policies and/or programs to see how cooperatives can be better used within the government.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blake Richards

Ms. Guy, your time has expired. I will give you about 15 or 20 seconds just to wrap up, very briefly.

10:15 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Co-operative Association

Denyse Guy

I have six main, key areas: secure a partnership with the cooperatives sector and Industry Canada; transfer data and statistics on cooperatives that have been collected by the rural and cooperatives secretariat; re-establish a permanent federal government interdepartmental cooperatives committee; the fourth is that government programs be accessible and support the development of co-ops; the fifth, to revamp the Canadian corporate act to support the principles and values of co-ops; and the sixth is that the sector is moving towards a $40 million national cooperative development fund and we would like you to be a partner in that fund.

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blake Richards

Thank you very much.

We will move now to the Canadian Bankers Association.

Mr. Wrobel.

10:15 a.m.

Marion Wrobel Vice-President, Policy and Operations, Canadian Bankers Association

Thank you very much.

Good morning. I would like to thank the committee for this opportunity to provide the banking industry's perspective on the status of cooperatives in Canada.

For the purposes of my appearance today, I'm going to focus my remarks on financial cooperatives.

The Canadian Bankers Association represents 54 banks operating in Canada, banks that are well managed and well capitalized and that operate in a competitive market with strong, prudential oversight. A strong and healthy financial system is the cornerstone of a strong economy, and the CBA believes that credit unions are an integral part of a strong and competitive financial system.

Just to be clear, when I speak of credit unions, I'm also referring to caisses populaires, whether in Quebec or outside of Quebec.

A strong and healthy financial sector helps businesses grow and thrive and helps Canadians buy homes and save for education and retirement. Canadian consumers and businesses enjoy a wide range of affordable and accessible financial products and services, such as chequing and savings accounts, insurance, investments, commercial financing, and mortgages. Competition to provide these financial services is fierce. Not only do banks compete aggressively against each other to provide these financial products and services; they compete against a wide range of providers, including credit unions. These institutions offer products and services similar to those of banks.

For instance, when it comes to chequing and savings accounts, Canada has one of the most accessible financial systems in the world, with 99% of Canadians having an account with a financial institution. Banks alone offer more than 100 accounts packages in the marketplace. Youth, students, and seniors, as well as not-for-profit organizations can access discounted or free accounts. Indeed, 30% of Canadians pay no service fees at all for their banking, and credit unions also offer their own accounts packages to Canadians.

Canadians are well aware of the role of credit unions and of the level of competition and choice in financial services in Canada, and 92% of Canadians agree that there is good choice in financial services for consumers. In fact, credit unions account for 15% of deposits, 12% of residential mortgage originations, and 19% of lending to small and medium-sized enterprises across the country.

I would like to comment on the substantial evolution that we are observing among Canada's credit unions. In order to continue to provide a high level of competition and choice for Canadian consumers and businesses, there has been significant restructuring in the credit union movement. Credit unions, and correspondingly the credit union centrals that serve them, are amalgamating to support expansion in the marketplace and to take advantage of economies of scale.

Credit unions are increasingly moving away from the traditional one-branch or two-branch model. Across the credit union system, while the actual number of credit unions has declined, the size of the branch networks has increased. In Canada, there is one credit union that has nearly 100 branches, three that have between 50 and 75 branches, 12 with between 20 and 50 branches, and 28 that have between 10 and 20 branches. The size of some of these branch networks is comparable to that of small and medium-sized banks.

Consistent with this growth in branch networks is the growth of balance sheets. Over the past decade, the size of the average credit union's balance sheet has tripled. Not only is the average credit union growing, but the largest credit unions make up a significant share of the credit union system in some provinces. In Alberta, the two largest credit unions make up 73% of the credit union assets in the province, and the largest institution accounts for 58% of assets. In British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, the figures are 51%, 40%, and 37% respectively for the two largest institutions.

In order to provide liquidity management, payments processing, and other support services to these growing credit unions, credit union centrals in various provinces are amalgamating as well. The credit union centrals of British Columbia and Ontario merged into Central One Credit Union in 2008, while credit union centrals in P.E.I., New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia joined together to form Atlantic Central in 2011. Discussions have taken place for additional consolidation at the central level. I would like to note that these centrals are federally regulated, even as the credit unions themselves are provincially regulated.

I would now like to turn to the federal government's initiative to permit the creation of federal credit unions.

As credit unions continue to evolve in order to provide further competition and choice in the financial marketplace across provincial boundaries, it is important that there be an appropriate supervisory and regulatory framework that supports growth while ensuring safety and soundness for individual credit unions and for the national financial system as a whole.

It is for this reason that the CBA strongly supports the federal government's efforts to establish a legal framework for credit unions to be incorporated and regulated at the federal level if they so choose.

The draft regulatory framework, which is currently the subject of ongoing consultations, subjects federal credit unions to the same prudential capital and liquidity standards and business and investment powers that banks are subject to. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for credit unions to broaden choices for consumers by improving services to existing members and by attracting new members across provincial borders.

While provincial credit unions can incorporate a banking subsidiary or establish a retail association, these options are cumbersome and do not effectively take advantage of economies of scale. The federal credit union legislation provides a more straightforward, simple, and seamless vehicle to operate across provincial borders. It is the view of the CBA that the addition of a federal option provides a tremendous amount of flexibility to the way in which credit unions operate and are supervised and regulated in Canada.

Credit unions can continue to operate under a provincial regulatory regime, but doing so means they will continue to be limited to the province of incorporation. For those credit unions that wish to grow larger by serving members in more than one province, the federal framework offers a good option.

It is important that there be no overlaps or gaps in the regulatory framework for credit unions. For instance, provincial regulators have raised some concerns about some credit unions taking advantage of gaps in provincial legislation and regulation to solicit cross-border deposits. This can ultimately lead to confusion about the nature of and responsibility over these institutions as well as about the nature of deposit guarantee. The federal framework, on the hand, provides a simple, clear, unambiguous means to reach out to members across the country.

Federal credit union legislation is an appropriate model to address the statutory and regulatory gaps. Credit unions incorporated under the federal model will benefit from oversight by the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions and the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation deposit insurance, while Canadian consumers and businesses will benefit from greater financial choice and competition.

In short, the federal credit union regime goes a long way to creating an appropriate, efficient, and effective regulatory regime for a modern credit union movement in Canada.

Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blake Richards

Thank you, Mr. Wrobel.

We move now to Credit Union Central of Canada.

Mr. Fitzpatrick will be making the presentation.

July 10th, 2012 / 10:25 a.m.

Stephen Fitzpatrick Vice-President, Corporate Services and Chief Financial Officer, Credit Union Central of Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for inviting us to be part of this very important study into the current opportunities and challenges facing the cooperative sector in Canada.

My name is Stephen Fitzpatrick. I'm the vice-president of corporate services and chief financial officer at Credit Union Central of Canada. As such, I'll be speaking from the perspective of credit unions, full-service financial institutions that are cooperatively owned by their individual and commercial members.

I will touch on a couple of the topics my colleague discussed, but as you may expect, we may have a slightly different perspective on some of those matters.

I was to have been accompanied by Monsieur Denis Laframboise, who's the president and CEO of Ottawa-based Your Credit Union. However, he had to deal with a personal matter this morning. He may be here a little later, but we will carry on.

I'd like to start by just providing you some contextual information about credit unions. The Canadian credit union system is a vital competitor in the financial services industry. Credit Union Central of Canada, known as Canadian Central, is the national trade association for its member organizations, which are the centrals, and through them 363 Canadian credit unions.

Canada's credit unions operate a branch network with more than 1,700 locations. These branches serve more than five million members and employ almost 26,000 people across Canada. Almost one-quarter of credit union locations serve small communities where the credit union is the only financial services provider.

As member-owned financial cooperatives, service continues to be our number one motivation. That commitment to service is gaining recognition. For the seventh consecutive year, Canadians ranked credit unions first in overall customer service excellence among all financial institutions, surpassing all the Canadian banks in Synovate Canada's 2011 best banking awards. Credit unions also took sole honours in the categories of “values my business” and “branch service excellence”. In addition, credit unions tied for first place among Canadian FIs in the categories of “financial planning and advice” and “telephone banking excellence”.

I'd now like to highlight for you some of the current trends in the Canadian credit union system. First of all, credit unions continue to be strong performers. Even through the economic crisis, Canada's credit union system has performed extremely well. Canadian credit unions ended 2011 with assets that were 10.1% higher than in 2010, reaching $140.2 billion, while generating record profitability. For comparison, this asset size, $140 billion, is roughly comparable to that of the National Bank of Canada.

Our cooperative model is a key reason for our solid financial performance. Direct accountability to our members, each of whom has an equal say in our operations, means that credit unions are prudent lenders and naturally inclined towards productive investment in our local communities. This strong financial performance has resulted in continued growth in membership. Today more than 5.2 million Canadians belong to a credit union. Our membership growth has slightly outpaced population growth. Despite competition from the large banks and other financial services providers, credit union membership has grown at an average annual rate of 1.2% over the last 10 years. During that same period, Canada's population grew at an annual rate of 1%.

Consolidation in the credit union system is a continuing trend. For decades, some credit unions have responded to increased complexity, to compliance costs, and to changing demographics through consolidation. Mergers between neighbouring like-minded credit unions offer effective solutions to meet the competitive challenges of our rapidly changing financial services industry, while at the same time permitting growth and diversification opportunities in a larger market.

Many small and medium-sized credit unions, and lately larger credit unions, continue to join forces to reduce overhead costs, afford new technology, and offer a broader range of better products. As a result, between 1992 and 2011 the number of credit unions has decreased by 726, declining at an average rate of about 36 credit unions per year.

While mergers have reduced the total number of credit unions, the network of branches, combined with the range of electronic banking services available to members, remains strong. As an example, over the last 20 years the number of ATMs in the system has increased by approximately 50%.

Overall, credit union mergers have contributed to our vibrancy, and they've strengthened our commitment to local and community banking. The result is a combination of locally owned small, medium, and large credit unions that reflect the individuality and character of the communities they serve.

I'd like to talk about the federal credit union option just briefly. The consolidation and growth of the system has implications for the traditional geographical scope of credit unions. For instance, in British Columbia, the three largest credit unions hold 61.5% of the assets in that province. Similarly, in Alberta, the largest credit union holds 59.6%, and in Newfoundland and Labrador, the largest holds 52%. For these credit unions the greatest potential for growth and expansion is beyond the borders of their province of incorporation. For this reason, among others, Canadian Central welcomed the federal credit union legislation that was adopted as part of Budget 2010. We were pleased to hear last week that draft regulations have been released for comment, and we look forward to the coming into force of this legislation that will enable credit unions to choose a new option to address growth opportunities and enhance service to their members.

As we manage growth and the growing expectations of our members in the communities we serve, credit unions do face marketplace and regulatory challenges where the federal government has a role. There are two in particular I would like to draw to the committee's attention today.

First is in relation to small business. Credit unions appreciate the role we play within a strong regulatory framework to protect the savings and security of Canadians. However, we share the concerns of many members of Parliament that regulations are being applied in the same manner for financial institutions with 2,000 employees as they are for those with a dozen or fewer, the result being relatively high compliance costs for credit unions. In their recent final report, the government's red tape reduction commission emphasized that a “one size fits all” approach to regulation tends to disproportionately burden smaller businesses like credit unions.

We urge the federal government to follow through on its commitment in Budget 2011 to require regulators to examine current and future regulation through a small business lens to ensure that new and existing rules do not adversely affect credit unions while creating unintended advantages for larger financial institutions.

Another issue of concern to credit unions is the legislative mandate of Farm Credit Canada. Credit unions value the role of Farm Credit Canada, the role it plays as a committed partner that supports Canadian agriculture in good times and bad. However, the FCC is in an anomalous position relative to other crown financial institutions. It does not face a requirement to lend in the manner that complements the activities of private sector FIs, but instead it can aggressively compete head to head with credit unions while enjoying marked advantages that are related to its status as a crown corporation.

It is also unique in that unlike Export Development Canada and the Business Development Bank of Canada, FCC is not subject to a regular parliamentary mandate review. Canadian Central recommends that the government undertake a public review of the Farm Credit Canada Act to ensure that FCC continues to play a relevant role in a competitive marketplace. We also recommend that the government consider amending FCCs legislation and operating principles to bring them into closer alignment with those of the Business Development Bank and Export Development Canada. Specifically, this would mean that the legislation governing FCC would be subject to a regular parliamentary review, and second, that this legislation would be amended to require FCC to operate in a manner that complements rather than competes with the activities of private sector lenders.

Mr. Chair, Canadian Central wishes to thank this committee and your colleagues for undertaking this important and timely study. Across Canada this year, credit unions are taking part in celebrations to mark the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives. This is an ideal time to reflect upon the vital role that cooperatives have played in building our country and upon how together we can continue to promote and grow cooperatives and credit unions as democratic, responsive, and successful businesses.

I thank you very much for the opportunity to provide some thoughts to you today. We're here to take any questions.

Thank you.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Blake Richards

Thank you very much to all three of you for your opening remarks.

We will move to our first round of questioning now, beginning with Madame LeBlanc.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Thank you.

I want to thank all the witnesses.

Ms. Guy, I hope that the documents you sent to the chair will be provided to all committee members.

I was especially interested in your presentation. You had some very intriguing suggestions for the federal government. You said that the programs for small and medium-sized businesses, which previous witnesses had praised, did not meet the needs of cooperatives. Could you elaborate on that?

10:35 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Co-operative Association

Denyse Guy

Thank you very much for the question. I will make sure that you all get the briefs.

One of the challenges in the application forms for various programs that are government sponsored is that they're more easily accessible for business corporations or sole proprietorships or partnerships. Often there isn’t a little box for a cooperative. It's as simple as that. Then they ask, who are the key investors? It's often very difficult to list perhaps 250 members, if it's that size of a cooperative. So that's an issue.

One area we've been focusing on is the services available through the Community Futures Development Corporations, as an example. You should be able to walk into a CFDC across the country and be able to get information on cooperatives. There are initiatives across this country concerning partnerships with local CFDCs, but there should be a Canadian initiative for a level playing field for accessing information about how to incorporate a cooperative and what the steps are in cooperative development. Those are just two examples.

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

I was fortunate enough to attend the credit union conference in Montreal at the end of June. I see credit unions as a vital part of our economy, promoting a very specific set of values and principles.

You said you would like to see Industry Canada provide services to credit unions. How do you think we can recognize cooperatives as entities that are distinct from corporations while continuing to promote cooperative principles?