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.