Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak on National Co-op Week.
As an anecdote, I could mention that all primary schools in Quebec have a school savings bank and I remember that one of the first things I did as an organizer was to look after the savings bank in our school. For that reason, I am especially pleased to speak on this statement.
As the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, who seems to have held a similar position, said, the importance of co-operatives throughout Canada is evident. In view of the size of the co-op movement in Quebec's economy and the place it has held in Quebecers' recent history, let me point out the work this movement does and its special contribution to our society.
Co-ops played and still play a vital role in Quebec's economic development. Voluntary membership, democratic organization, training of members, redistribution of surpluses in the community and limits on return on capital are all principles that square with Quebecers' thinking and explain the development of this movement in Quebec. Furthermore, co-ops are part of the lives of Quebecers from primary school until they die-there are even funeral co-operatives.
Whether we talk about financial, farm, housing, consumer, labour or any other kind of co-op, the co-operative movement is healthy and continues to grow in Quebec. Moreover, a new generation of co-op members is assured with the rise of co-ops in the student community through "interco-operation", twinning co-ops from different fields of activity; the Société de développement coopératif in particular promotes this.
The Desjardins movement is, of course, the pride of Quebec's co-op community. Stretching across Canada and involved in international co-operation projects in many other countries, the Desjardins group manages total assets estimated at over $75 billion. Quebec's co-op movement comprises over 3,300 co-ops with more than 5.9 million members and in excess of 60,000 employees. A major success story.
The vigour of the co-op movement in Quebec is due to the strong feeling of solidarity among Quebecers. We have always stuck together to ensure our own growth, often under difficult conditions. This solidarity will soon bring Quebecers to sovereignty, which must be based on economic sovereignty. The Desjardins movement, among others, has played a significant role in this by giving us confidence in one another.
In closing, I wish to thank and congratulate all co-operators in Quebec and Canada for their volunteer work, without which the co-op movement would not be what it is today.