Mr. Speaker, it is a real honour to represent the people of St. John's West. This is my first speech in the House, after having asked a couple of questions.
Although having represented a riding called Ferryland, part of St. John's West, in the Newfoundland legislature for about 17 years I am pretty reluctant to call my first speech a maiden speech.
I thank the people from the constituency of St. John's West for giving me this tremendous honour. It is a real honour for anyone to come here and serve the people of Canada. I am very grateful for that.
I would be a little remiss if I did not also thank the wonderful team I had who helped me put together my campaign which was very successful in getting me to the House of Commons.
Tomorrow I will be making a real speech about some Newfoundland issues. Just so that people understand, one of the duties of parliamentarians besides representing their own constituents is to be a critic of certain industries and certain portfolios in government. My critic responsibility is industry where the co-operative legislation lies. Thus today I will debate the bill on co-operatives.
Bill C-5 is a good piece of legislation. It will be supported by all colleagues in the Conservative caucus. It is a piece of legislation that has evolved after much discussion with many of the principals and parties involved, many levels of government, and the associations of co-operatives both in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.
It is not very often that we will see such a large degree of co-operation in the House of Commons. Co-operatives involve people organizing around a common goal, usually not for profit but rather for the economic benefit of their members.
I might point out in my first chance to speak in the House of Commons the purpose of Canada in the beginning: a group of people organizing together for common goals where everybody works for the good of everyone else.
In the short period of time I have been here I have seen that some of us have forgotten that principle of Canada, the principle of co-operation, the principle of a co-operative, the idea we should work together.
We are now all broken down into the regions of Canada and each region seems to lose some of its empathy and compatibility with the rest of Canada. That is most unfortunate and something that simply should not be allowed to continue in the House.
Co-operatives come from the grassroots movement. As such ordinary people are trying to make their ordinary lives a little better by organizing in certain elements which we now call co-operatives.
Co-operatives are also in many ways leaders in our community in environmental issues. They think the economies they are involved with must be sustainable and must not do any damage to the environment. As such I want to commend many of the co-operatives in this country for taking a very progressive leadership role on the environment.
Many co-operatives—I presume all co-operatives—are committed to Canadian economic prosperity. They do this through links with other international co-operative associations and in doing so they are able to participate in worldwide trade and many marketing ventures.
In doing research on Bill C-5 I found the role which co-operatives have played in Canada to be absolutely amazing. It started back in the 1800s with the Mutual Farm Insurance Company. By the late 1800s farmers wanted to have the same security in producing and marketing their products as successful large businesses. The farmers decided it was in their best interests to band together to gain better control over the marketing of their products and purchases. Today agricultural co-operatives play a major role in the Canadian economy.
I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Brandon—Souris, who will elaborate on and emphasize the importance of agricultural co-operatives.
Agricultural co-ops supply 36% of fertilizer and chemical sales. They have over 221,000 members and employ 18,000 people full time. That is something which I, coming from Newfoundland, would not have understood if I was not the critic responsible for debating Bill C-5.
There are also many fishery and forestry co-operatives. I was involved with a fishery co-operative in the small town of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, where fishermen had real difficulty in marketing and selling their product. They formed their own co-operative. Although they ran into the same difficulties which all of the Newfoundland fishing companies ran into, they certainly showed that if people in small communities want to pool their resources and work together then success stories can evolve.
There are many consumer co-operatives in Canada. In 1995 there were 582 consumer co-operatives, with almost three million members. In 1995 there were also 28 health care co-operatives that generated $268.3 million in revenue and had over 316,000 members.
There are child care co-operatives that involve either day care or nursery school services. In 1995 there were 437 day care and nursery school co-ops in Canada. Where would all those children receive their day care and nursery schooling if these co-ops were not in place?
Co-operatives in many areas play a very major role in our economy.
There are also housing co-operatives. The number of housing co-operatives has been on the rise since the mid-1970s. In 1995 there were 1,946 housing co-ops across the country, with over 107,000 members. When I was campaigning in St. John's West I encountered people who were members of a housing co-op. They were very upset that the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the agency which had funded their co-op, seemed to have classed them in with social housing, which is a different kind of housing, and was becoming reluctant to get further involved in co-op housing.
I talked to the participants of the project which I visited that day. They are very soundly proud of having co-op housing, which was funded through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
There are workers co-operatives, which reflects the need for people to have more control over their own employment. In 1995 there were 225 of these co-operatives, with about 14,000 members.
Essentially, there are more than 7,000 non-financial co-operatives operating in Canada, with over 4.5 million members. Therefore it is important that we examine Bill C-5 to see exactly what it means because it affects so many Canadians in so many different ways.
Our role in the House is to do what we are doing today. Although I said that Bill C-5 is an excellent bill, and there has been a lot of discussion, there are still small parts of it which we want to discuss. I am sure we can do that in committee at a future time.
While the principle of a co-operative is to function outside a market economy, it must nonetheless respond to the same pressures and logic of that market. Therefore competition compels co-operatives to adopt the operating style and environment of the market oriented firms which dominate our economy. This point has fueled the necessity for change in this legislative environment.
It is also why the proposed changes in Bill C-5 mirror some of the existing rights for businesses which are granted under the Canada Business Corporations Act. Thus it is called enabling legislation. Powers are expanded and existing rules are clarified, but no co-operative is forced to change the way it currently operates.
While the provinces have been updating their co-operative legislation over the years, there have been no changes to modernize the framework of the federal legislation since its inception.
The proposals put forward by all of the co-operative associations, both in Quebec and in Canada, were based on consultations with both memberships. As previously mentioned, the most notable feature was that the changes would more closely align the Canada Co-operatives Association Act with the Canada Business Corporation Act.
It is time to get these changes moving forward, adding more flexibility, more competitiveness and the principle of using surplus funds to allow members to access additional funds for expansion. Finally the principle of education is also emphasized.
There is also an important principle in this bill which reduces ministerial authority, which is always good in legislation.
I would like to point out that Bill C-5 is not a controversial bill. Agreement between all parties was slow. It took over five years to develop. I believe a reasonable compromise was reached. Overall this bill is a positive step in bringing co-operatives into the 21st century by making them more flexible, more efficient and more competitive.
The changes in Bill C-5 are wide scale adjustments but I am confident the overall co-op membership of some 4.5 million Canadians will benefit greatly.