That, a special committee be appointed to consider the status of cooperatives in Canada and to make recommendations by: (a) identifying the strategic role of cooperatives in our economy; (b) outlining a series of economic, fiscal and monetary policies for strengthening Canadian cooperatives as well as for protecting the jobs they create; (c) exploring the issue of capitalization of cooperatives, its causes, effects and potential solutions; (d) exploring whether the Canada Cooperatives Act of 1998 requires updating; (e) identifying what tools the government can use to provide greater support and a greater role to Canadian cooperatives; 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 the manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2); and that the Committee report its recommendations to this House no later than November 30, 2012.
Mr. Speaker, to begin the debate I would like to quote UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in English and in French. In French, to mark International Year of Co-operatives, he said:
Les coopératives rappellent à la communauté internationale qu’il est possible d’allier la vitalité économique à la responsabilité sociale.
In English he said:
Cooperatives are a reminder to the international community that it is possible to pursue both economic viability and social responsibility
That is the message of this International Year of Co-operatives.
Given the declaration of the United Nations of 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives, I have been appointed as Liberal Advocate for Co-operatives by the Liberal leader, the member for Toronto Centre, earlier this month. I thank him for that.
The newly created role of Advocate for Co-operatives is based on openness, collaboration and awareness. It avoids partisanship to the greatest extent possible. It is meant to be a progressive, positive and evidence-based role. I fully intend to promote Canadian co-operatives and their values as well as assist them to the best of my abilities.
Since my appointment a little earlier this month, I have had the opportunity to meet with representatives of the two major national co-operative associations, the Canadian Co-operative Association and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité. I also toured some co-operatives, including an agricultural co-operative, the Coop AgriEst in Saint-Isidore, not far from here, which was established by proud eastern Ontario farmers. This co-operative is doing very well and has increased its sales from $10 million to $40 million in 10 years.
I also had the pleasure of attending the grand opening of the new multi-service building of the Coopérative de solidarité multiservices Montauban, in Notre-Dame-de-Montauban, a small town with a population of less than 1,000 located north of Shawinigan. I was there with my Liberal colleague, the member for Saint-Maurice—Champlain. I hope she will have time, a little later this afternoon, to talk more about this town's initiative.
Everything I have learned since my appointment from my meetings, visits, reading and personal experience has been confirmed by survey results published this week by iPolitics.
I quote from the text written by David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data. It is as follows:
In mid-May, Abacus Data was retained by the Canadian Co-operative Association to conduct a national public opinion survey to understand what Canadians know and how they feel about co-operatives. The results of the survey found a strong appetite among Canadians for the co-operative model and most Canadians, especially in Western Canada and Quebec, are already members of one or more.
Here are some of the key findings of the survey: Eight in ten Canadians (83%) said they would prefer to shop at a locally-owned business that shares its profit among member-owners and invests in the local community over a privately owned company that is part of a larger chain and well known throughout Canada. The respondents were told to assume price, service, quality, and convenience were all equal.
Over eight in ten Canadians (85%) had heard of a co-operative before, with awareness highest in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and the Prairie provinces.
A large majority of Canadians said they were either very or somewhat familiar with co-operatives, including credit unions. Ontarians and Quebecers were the least familiar with them.
Only 5% of Canadians were aware that 2012 is the International Year of Co-operatives.
The survey also asked respondents to complete an exercise in which they were shown a series of attributes that could apply to a business and asked whether the attribute best applied to a co-operative or another business. The survey found that Canadians clearly distinguish between co-operatives and other types of business.
Over eight in ten Canadians believed that co-operatives were better than other businesses in supporting their community’s values, having a democratic structure, supporting their local economy, and selling locally produced products. They were also perceived to be better in how they treat their employees and customers, and in their social and environmental practices.
As the Liberal Advocate for Co-operatives, I believe that it is important to reach out, to meet with representatives of organizations, and to get out into the community to have a better understanding of the reality of Canada's co-operatives.
The motion has already been read and therefore I will not read it again. I believe it is quite straightforward.
I would like, however, to highlight that a great advantage of this motion is that it will give Parliament and Canadians and co-operatives across the country the ability to really participate in the International Year of Co-operatives. It will help focus the efforts that would be welcomed, perhaps needed, by the Government of Canada to eventually foster a greater milieu favourable to the co-operative sector.
As members know, co-operatives have long played an important role in the development of the Canadian economy. We need only think of agriculture and the first agricultural co-operatives established more than a century ago.
In a 2009 report from the CCA and the CCCN, two large national co-operative organizations, we learn that agricultural co-operatives in Canada have a long and fruitful history as drivers of rural economies and mainstays of many communities across the country.
I am sure my colleague from Malpeque will have more to say on that subject.
The oldest co-op in Ottawa is Alterna. Founded in 1908 as the Civil Service Savings and Loan Society, it was originally a credit union for public servants. Then, a few years later, the Caisse populaire Desjardins Rideau was created, which just celebrated its 100th anniversary.
In a way, the Desjardins Group, which today has over 5 million members, mainly in Quebec but also in other parts of the country, started here in this House. When the movement's founder, Alphonse Desjardins, was a clerk in this House, he was working to develop a legal framework that would lead to the creation of co-operatives, particularly financial ones, across the country.
He and his wife Dorimène then moved to Lévis where they started the Desjardins Group, which is now celebrating its 110th anniversary. This is the fifth largest financial institution in the country, which shows the significance of the co-operative movement in Canada.
In recent history, we can talk about housing co-operatives, which are much more than a simple place to live. A housing co-operative is a legal association based on co-operative principles that is formed to provide its members with permanent housing. In Canada, approximately a quarter of a million people live in housing co-operatives, which play a very important role in our economy and our communities.
Here are a few facts to justify setting up a special committee, as requested in the motion, to mark the International Year of Co-operatives.
Today, more than 18 million Canadians are members of co-operatives. This is a very impressive statistic. The website for the International Year of Co-operatives in Canada states that there are approximately 9,000 co-operatives in Canada, including more than 2,200 housing co-operatives, as I mentioned earlier, which are home to more than 250,000 people; there are more than 1,300 agricultural co-ops; more than 650 retail co-operatives; more than 900 credit unions and caisses populaires with close to 11 million members throughout the country; about 450 co-ops offering childcare or early childhood education—these co-ops, by the way, are Quebec's second-largest private employer; more than 600 worker co-ops—owned by the employees—with a total membership of over 13,000; and more than 100 healthcare co-operatives.
Today, co-operatives including credit unions control assets evaluated at more than $250 billion and employ more than 150,000 people. It is well known that the co-operative concept makes it possible to set up the kind of projects that lack the critical mass needed to trigger private sector investment. For instance, at least 2,000 communities are served by at least one credit union. More than 1,100—more than half of those 2,000 communities—have only one financial institution.
This means that 1,100 communities in Canada rely on the co-operative movement for their financial institution.
Here is another important fact: the survival rate of co-ops is higher than that of private sector businesses. In addition, the rate of job creation is extraordinary, as is the solidity of cooperatives during financial crises.
I would like to draw attention to some comments by Jean-François Lisée in an article published in L'actualité dated March 1, 2012. Mr. Lisée underlined the fact that co-ops are more resilient than private sector companies. In fact, among co-operatives, after 5 years of operation, the resiliency rate is said to be 77% higher than in the private sector, and after 10 years of operation, more than 54% of co-operatives are more resilient than private sector businesses.
The other advantage, of course, is that co-operatives do not relocate. We will never see a co-operative moving its jobs abroad in order to increase its profits, so this means greater solidarity and greater stability in these strong communities that invest in their own future.
There have been examples elsewhere in the world. Mr. Lisée gave the example of Argentina, where, when a business is in danger of going bankrupt or being shut down, the employees and management would be able to make the first offer to buy it and turn it into a co-operative. This interesting initiative was passed in Argentina last June.
Similarly, in France, when there is a public tendering process, a co-operative will win the contract. Those are two examples of countries that realized that having co-operatives and encouraging co-operative development in their country was beneficial.
Unfortunately, it is well known that co-operatives sometimes struggle to get the capital they need to get started and expand. A special committee could examine the cases and the potential solutions. Would it not also be helpful to treat financial investors in co-ops the same way as investors in private companies?
Lastly, as the motion states, the Canada Cooperatives Act was passed in 1998. It may be time to review it.
I believe that the government wants to propose an amendment. We will see about that shortly. However, I think that creating a special committee that would work until November—the motion requires the committee to report in November—would perhaps be the best way to show that Parliament is serious about the co-operative movement. Members must not forget that this movement exists in a number of sectors and not only in industry. It exists in the financial, health, child care and housing sectors. It is important for one committee to focus solely on this issue without having to deal with anything else. A standing House committee could end up examining a bill or House resolution or could end up having to take care of a crisis, and it would have to set aside its examination of this important motion during the International Year of Co-operatives.
That is why I think that appointing a special committee whose mandate would expire at the end of November would be the best way for Parliament and the government to show how serious they are. They should support co-operatives and ensure that, during the International Year of Co-operatives, they can take a closer look to see where it would be beneficial to add new programs, change the conditions of other programs or budget votes so that the co-operative world can benefit from them. We would all benefit from that.
That is what I wanted to say about the motion before us. I hope that the hon. members of the House will look favourably on this resolution, which is not partisan in the least. I have tried to avoid partisanship because I think there are people from all parts of the political spectrum in the co-operative movement. Political allegiances must not get in the way of considering this type of issue.
As parliamentarians, we have to appreciate the initiatives of our communities, appreciate the values they convey and strengthen them.
I hope that, over the course of this afternoon's debate, we will learn that the government has decided to support and vote in favour of this resolution.