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

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier. I congratulate him on his research into co-operatives and on his comments.

It is a business model that I also like a great deal and which is probably a little underused in Canada, hence the importance of this motion to study the co-operative model.

Like most Canadians, I am a little more aware of the model used in the banking and financial sector. We also know that this business model is frequently used in the agricultural sector and for housing co-operatives.

Could my colleague tell us a little more about the benefits that other sectors of economic activity might derive from using the co-operative business model? Apart from the sectors I mentioned, I know less about other industrial sectors that use the co-operative model, and I would like to hear from my colleague about this.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could give a whole host of other examples. With regard to housing, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada is certainly facing a problem, because the programs currently managed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will lapse in 2020. Action must therefore be taken in this regard. The federation is worried. I think it will be reassured that Parliament is paying attention to the situation.

It is the same for day care. In fact, child care and early childhood education centres make up Quebec's second-largest employer. Co-operatives are the major player in this area.

There is a wide range of co-operatives. There are laundry co-ops, funeral co-ops, health co-ops and agricultural co-ops. Agricultural co-operatives are a good example. If they did not exist, some rural communities would disappear, and this is why it is so important for hundreds, if not thousands, of communities in Canada to have co-operatives that know they are supported by government policies.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate it if my colleague would explain a little more about the human side of co-operatives.

What impact do these co-operatives have on people in small towns, for example, regarding their current attitude toward going to big box stores and other places that are, to some extent, absolutely dehumanized?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have been asked this question, because I have not spoken enough about the human aspect of co-operatives.

The co-operatives belong to their members. They are responsible for the way in which they deal with their clients and their employees. Most of the time, they are neighbours and people who know each other well. So of course, these people are more civil than when they go to a department store belonging to people they do not know and whose only objective is to make the greatest profit they can. Co-operatives have the well-being of their communities and best interests of their members at heart. Frequently, most of the people in the town will belong to the co-operative.

It was a wonderful idea that Alphonse Desjardins had for the financial area, and others built on his idea in the areas of agriculture, retailing, funerals and so on. The only limit to what can be done with co-operatives is the imagination. Co-operatives are built on warm, sincere, human principles that are, I think, respected by all the members in this House.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his most eloquent speech on what is indeed a very exciting issue. When I was a lot younger, I had the opportunity of being part of a housing co-op. I really got a sense of what it means to pool resources and talents, since we are talking about the human aspect.

The United Nations decreed 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives. In my colleague's opinion, have the Conservatives decided to make cutbacks specifically this year simply because they were lazy, or was it a deliberate act of defiance?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would not have gone down that path had it not been for the response that I got on May 18 from the minister responsible for co-operatives. When I asked him what had been done since January 12, when the International Year of Co-operatives was launched, to celebrate the role and support for co-operatives in Canada, he replied that all 9,000 co-operatives were doing very well, that they had contributed 150,000 jobs, and a couple of hundred billion dollars in investment, and therefore did not need help.

I was surprised to hear that from the government spokesman, so much so that I decided to pursue the issue, without really going on the attack. These co-operatives mean a great deal to 18 million Canadians. I cannot accept the fact that the Conservatives went to the United Nations in 2009 and said that they would support the International Year of Co-operatives and that they would do what needed to be done in Canada, but when a question was asked in May, they responded by saying that the co-operatives do not need the government's help.

If we take our job as parliamentarians seriously, we must respect our commitment to the co-operatives and to the International Year of Co-operatives, and use this year to do what must be done.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member is trying to get to a consultation through this motion. He mentioned the question he raised with the minister and that the minister basically said that they were on their own.

My question for the member is this: what will the impact of the budget cuts be on co-operatives? The rural co-operative development program has been cut from $20 million to $5.2 million, and the Rural Secretariat has been cut in staffing from 92 to 15. Those are serious cuts. Does the member foresee see a negative impact on the development of future co-operatives and on the maintenance of some that need community assistance now?

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought it regrettable that a program that was created in 2003 and renewed in 2008 has ended in March of this year. That was the one to help co-operatives in terms of capital and to help them get up and running. That is gone, and it was a key program for co-operatives.

In regard to the other one, the secretariat, I have seen letters sent to the government, copied to me in my role as Advocate for Cooperatives, that question why that has been done. The letter writers are waiting for an answer. In sum, the people at the co-operatives feel that this decision and the changes in those two programs are not very advantageous to them.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, Rights and Democracy; the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, Parks Canada.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

May 30th, 2012 / 4:15 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont
Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

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).

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Pursuant to Standing Order 85, it is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion. I therefore ask the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier whether he consents to this amendment being moved.

The hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, during my speech, I mentioned the reasons for my answer.

The committee will be called upon to consider issues of housing, child care, health, agriculture and finance, and not only industry. A bill in this House, a report from the Auditor General or private members bills could interrupt the work of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. The work cannot, therefore, be guaranteed. It is for this reason, and because of the complexity and the need to not interrupt proceedings, that I cannot accept the proposed amendment.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

There is no consent. Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 85 the amendment cannot be moved at this time.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from the industry committee and also for the proposition of having the industry committee being part of the committee that would be dealing with co-operatives.

Upon hearing the announcement of the cuts to the co-operative development initiative program that was providing funding for the Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat, as well as other related funding that was cut in the recent budget, Denyse Guy, executive director of the Canadian Co-operative Association, said:

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--just over $4 million a year--and made a difference in hundreds of communities across the country.

I would like to hear his comments on why the budget cuts for these very meaningful programs that helped co-operatives in all regions of Canada.

Opposition Motion—Cooperatives
Business of Supply
Government Orders

4:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Mr. Speaker, perhaps, as members of industry committee, we will get a chance to work on this issue in the future.

In regard to the specific question, as the member knows the Government of Canada delivered the economic action plan on March 29 to bolster Canada's fundamental strengths and address the important challenges confronting the economy over the long term, including a significant reduction to the deficit.

Over the past year, the government has conducted a comprehensive review of direct program spending by federal departments and agencies and identified a number of opportunities to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations, programs and services for Canadians.

When we look at the government's record, 750,000 net new jobs have been created in the Canadian economy since July 2009, a record that is the envy of the world.

As a government, we want to get our budget balanced within the short term so we can ensure the strength of the Canadian economy in the long term.