Mr. Chair, with me is Jeremy Rudin, assistant deputy minister of the financial services branch from Finance Canada, and John Connell, associate assistant deputy minister of strategic policy at Industry Canada.
My colleagues are here with me today as the responsibility for cooperatives is shared among the three departments. I welcome this opportunity to address this committee and contribute to your discussions on this vital sector of our economy. Before I do so, I would like to place the issue in the wider context of our department's contribution to the government's overall deficit reduction strategy as part of economic action plan for 2012.
As we all know, the government is moving to a smaller footprint and is asking departments to focus on their core mandates. Much of what our department does is of direct benefit to rural Canada. Our core stakeholder groups remain agricultural producers and processors. This is the end of a cycle in which programs were automatically renewed and the start of an ongoing objectives-based evaluation process, a process in which certain initiatives will also be gradually eliminated.
The programs of the rural and cooperative secretariat have achieved their objectives, and like many of the programs in other departments, they have not been renewed. There is no question that the rural and cooperatives secretariat has laid solid groundwork for communities to more effectively interact and take advantage of opportunities that exist to advance their interests. That said, we believe that virtually every department of government has a responsibility for rural development, particularly economic development. Every department needs to ensure that its programs and policies reflect the unique circumstances of rural Canadians. In other words, they should be viewed through what has been called the rural lens. In that spirit, we are committed to working with other government departments to ensure rural concerns are integral to policy and programming decisions.
To facilitate that, we will have a small but focused policy coordination and research group, the role of which will be to leverage the resources and influence the decisions of other government departments. This dedicated group will be able to draw resources from across the department and will assist in integrating the work of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in its portfolio agencies in the interests of rural Canadians.
Of course, cooperatives will continue to play a critical role in this new approach. I am sure members around this table are fully aware of the important contribution that cooperatives make to Canada's economy, providing goods, services and jobs for Canadians from small communities to large cities.
The co-op sector continues to show that it can be a competitive—and profitable—business structure in today's economy, responding to the needs and drivers of the markets in the communities it serves. Canadian farmers can count on a very strong network of agricultural cooperatives that provide them with good production cost control, market access, and skills and expertise transfer.
There are a number of ways that the government has shown its support cooperatives over the years. One example is the Canadian Agricultural Loans Act, a financial loan guarantee program that gives cooperatives easier access to credit. Under CALA, agricultural cooperatives can access loans of up to $3 million to process, distribute or market farm products. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and portfolio organizations continue to provide a wide variety of programs for agricultural cooperatives.
This also gives me a chance to talk about AgPal. AgPal is a new web-based discovery tool developed by AAFC to help producers and others in the agriculture and agri-business sector find the federal, provincial and territorial programs and services that specifically apply to them. Agricultural cooperatives can use this tool to find a wide variety of programs.
There are programs such as the agriculture education program and agri-opportunities available to existing and start-up cooperatives that reflect the sectors in which they are operating, the needs of the people who are running the cooperatives, and the needs of the people who are accessing cooperatives' services.
All of this information is made available through the Guide of Government Programs Available to Cooperatives, a copy of which has been provided to thousands of cooperatives across Canada. The guide is also available on the web.
The provinces and territories also play an important role in developing innovative ways to capitalize cooperatives and cooperative development.
The government is pleased to be supporting the International Year of the Cooperatives, declared by the United Nations for 2012. We are working with the Canadian Cooperatives Association and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité to promote this international year and make it a success, including the international summit in October in Quebec. As part of our commitment, AAFC will work with the sector to prepare a final report to the United Nations on 2012 in Canada.
In summary, while our department sharpens its focus on its core mandate, the needs and potential of rural Canada and the cooperative sector will continue to inform our policies and programs, both at AAFC and across government.
Thank you once again for the opportunity to be part of this discussion.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.