House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was co-operatives.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 30th, 2012 / 4:55 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

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.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the member for Welland has travelled widely in western Canada and knows how important the pool movement was in western Canada. At one time farmers actually owned all the elevator infrastructure in western Canada with no debt. Those elevators were part of the community. For whatever reason, that has all been lost now and there are none of those pools left. Worse yet, the last protection that grain producers had in western Canada was the Canadian Wheat Board and the authority for it to work effectively has been taken away by the Government of Canada.

The co-op movement in the west came out strenuously against the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food in his move to do away with the Canadian Wheat Board. We know the Government of Canada attacks charities that go against the government. The government has done away with KAIROS.

Does the member for Welland think there is any possibility that having CDI under the minister's department, there is a sense of vindictiveness here? Does he think it is a matter of getting even with the co-op movement for having spoken against him, regardless of the consequences in rural communities?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Malpeque for the work he has done on behalf of farmers. We sat together on the agriculture committee in the last Parliament.

He is correct when it comes to the sense of a collective, where folks want to work together for something, as they did with the Canadian Wheat Board. As I have said many times in this House, it was for those who belonged to the Canadian Wheat Board to decide whether they wanted it to continue, and the government abrogated their right. They should have been allowed to decide whether they wanted to keep it and then we would abide by their decision as it was in the act, rather than simply change the act.

It seems the government takes a dim view to any sort of collective movement and does not like it. I would say to the Conservatives that there is no shame in being part of a collective because it is of one's free will to belong. If that is my choice, I ought to be allowed. There ought not to be impediments. It is my choice to be part of that free association of a collective movement. The government ought to stay out of my way and allow me to do that, not throw up roadblocks, not be detrimental in its attitude toward—

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order. I do not wish to interrupt the member, but the time is limited and there are other members who wish to pose questions.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank both my colleagues for their very eloquent speeches.

I would like to come back to the deplorable attitude of the Conservatives who are making these cuts, even while we are celebrating the International Year of Co-operatives.

Is this merely a case of a case of laziness or, as we have seen on a number of occasions on different issues, simple favouritism for private enterprise as a whole, as opposed to the interests of the co-operative movement for ordinary Canadians?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, when it comes to collective organizations, one of the greatest collective pools we know is employment insurance. People put money in to ensure that those who are marginalized by unemployment are helped out. Those who continue to work continue to pay in. We do not pay in, and that is an error in the government's choices. We should actually pay into employment insurance. We never collect it but we should at least pay it. We should lead by example. That is a collective organization that actually pools money together. Never mind the pooled registered pension plan that the Conservatives have dreamed up; let us talk about the pooled savings plan that helps people in case they become unemployed. That is a true collective movement. It is about helping people. People pay into it while they are working and are willing to let other people draw the benefits when those people are not working. That is a true collective movement in which the members look after one another, rather than the sense of showing someone the door, wishing him the best and hoping it does not rain because he does not have an umbrella.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain, I will let her know that she only has about two minutes. I will have to interrupt her at 5:15 as this is the end of government orders for this afternoon.

The hon. member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague pointed out earlier, I had intended to speak about the co-operative in Notre-Dame-de-Montauban, but I am simply going to talk about the cuts made by the federal government, which has distinguished itself by cutting the services of the Co-operatives Secretariat.

The latest federal budget reduced grants to Canada's co-operatives still further, despite the fact that they are on the front line in our rural communities. Technical support for the development of co-operatives in Canada, the only federal government program specifically for co-operatives, has shrunk to almost nothing. The budget for the specific program called the co-operative development initiative has been eliminated, without any alternatives being set up.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives, who boasted about being the all-out champions of rural development, have scrapped one of the few development initiatives for small and medium-sized communities in Canada in one fell swoop.

We are happy to see the co-operative movement set up new structures in Mauricie, but we hope that this model, the final barrier against the decline of our towns and villages, will develop throughout the area. We will have to invest the funds needed for the co-operatives' start-up in order to help the rural communities take control and ensure the stability of their towns, I could even say, of our towns.

I would like to ask the ministers opposite if they can tell me exactly how the communities should attract entrepreneurs to the area if they cannot even ensure the survival of local businesses. Rural development, whether agricultural, mining, industrial or business-related, is inextricably linked to maintaining basic services.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. That is all the time provided for the business of supply.

It being 5:15, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Wascana, SK

Mr. Speaker, just as a matter of clarity on that last vote. Is it fair to say that the motion was carried unanimously?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I appreciate the intervention by the hon. member for Wascana. The Journals will show that the motion was adopted. Generally it does not add the additional language that it was unanimous but certainly hon. members present will understand that to be the case.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I found a precedent that occurred when a previous Speaker, John Fraser, was in the Chair in 1987. All members present conceded that the motion as adopted was in fact unanimous and should be recorded as such. The Speaker at the time said that the House was the master of its own proceedings and should all members unanimously consent that the motion that was carried unanimously should be recorded as such, the Speaker would record it as such.

I ask if all members think that is a good idea?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is the hon. member for Saanich--Gulf Islands seeking unanimous consent that the motion be declared adopted unanimously?