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House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was human.

Topics

AbortionPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have two petitions to present today, each of which may sound a bit familiar given the petitions that have already been presented today.

The first one is on behalf of residents of the greater Ottawa area, including Gloucester, Nepean and Orléans.

The petitioners point out that Canada is the only nation in the western world, in the company of China and North Korea,without any laws restricting abortion. They call upon the House of Commons to speedily enact legislation that would restrict abortion to the greatest extent possible.

Fisheries and OceansPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, the second petition is from some residents of Prince Edward Island who are concerned about anticipated changes in the owner-operator and fleet separation policy affecting the midshore fishery in Prince Edward Island and on the east coast.

The petitioners rightly point out that 30,000 jobs are at stake, that there has been inadequate consultation in respect of this and that the prospect of a corporate takeover of the fishery would be devastating to the east coast economy.

The petitioners, therefore, call upon the Prime Minister to maintain and strengthen the fleet separation and owner-operator policies.

PensionsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition signed by people from Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord. The petitioners are worried about proposed changes to old age security.

The petitioners wish to point out, first, that the proposed changes will affect the poorest people most, and second, that experts agree that our old age security program is sustainable.

Considering those two facts, the petitioners are calling on the government to refrain from making any changes to old age security. Furthermore, they are calling on the government to improve the guaranteed income supplement, since the current amount is not enough to lift seniors out of poverty and is a disgrace to Canada today.

Human RightsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to present a petition signed by dozens of people from across Canada regarding justice and human rights.

The petition calls on the government to use its influence and good reputation around the world to put pressure on the countries that do not necessarily respect human rights, particularly Sri Lanka.

Canadian Broadcasting CorporationPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:40 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I proudly bring this petition to the House, in regard to the funding requirements and bolstering of CBC Radio-Canada, our public broadcaster in French and English. This public broadcaster facilitates the great national dialogue that we have had for well over 50 years. The petition talks about the importance of CBC Radio-Canada in both languages.

The petitioners want the Government of Canada to maintain stable, predictable and long-term core funding for the public broadcaster, and that includes its effect on the regions as well as the effect that it has on the national dialogue from coast to coast to coast.

The petitioners primarily come from Grand Falls—Windsor and the city of Calgary.

Air CanadaPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise to table a petition regarding Aveos and the thousands of jobs that have been lost in three provinces, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Employees, their families and others are concerned about the future of these jobs.

The petitioners are asking the government to hold Air Canada accountable. In essence, they call upon the House of Commons to take the action necessary in order to hold Air Canada accountable to the Air Canada Public Participation Act.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

May 30th, 2012 / 3:45 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all notices of motions for the production of papers be allowed to stand.

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is that agreed?

Motions for PapersRoutine Proceedings

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

moved:

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.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Independent

Bruce Hyer Independent Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Ottawa—Vanier has done a really good job of explaining why co-operatives are a good idea, why they have been good for Canada and Canadians and why we should foster and grow them. I also want to compliment the Liberals on putting forth this very important motion. I hope it will be voted for unanimously tonight. I know the member of the independent democrats will certainly vote for it.

The hon. member dealt with co-operatives in a very broad way. I am particularly interested in credit unions and caisses populaires. One out of three Canadians today uses them for transactions. They are cost effective, affordable and the members are the customers. There are lots of good reasons for it.

Does he have any ideas on how we can immediately focus on helping our banking institutions that belong to the people?

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would not want to second guess the work of the committee, but there are areas that would have to be explored by the committee. For instance, I believe two budgets ago Parliament approved the notion of creating co-operative banks. However, the regulations to enable that have yet to be presented, to my understanding. That would certainly be one area.

I totally agree with my colleague that the importance of caisses populaires and credit unions in communities is very significant. I am a member and all my banking is done through a caisse populaire. In school we were encouraged to join a caisse populaire and open our first account. That would be very much in tune with the government's efforts to increase fiscal literacy. This whole issue is something the committee may want to look at as well.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Sylvain Chicoine NDP Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech by my colleague from Ottawa—Vanier. I congratulate him on his research into co-operatives and on his comments.

It is a business model that I also like a great deal and which is probably a little underused in Canada, hence the importance of this motion to study the co-operative model.

Like most Canadians, I am a little more aware of the model used in the banking and financial sector. We also know that this business model is frequently used in the agricultural sector and for housing co-operatives.

Could my colleague tell us a little more about the benefits that other sectors of economic activity might derive from using the co-operative business model? Apart from the sectors I mentioned, I know less about other industrial sectors that use the co-operative model, and I would like to hear from my colleague about this.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I could give a whole host of other examples. With regard to housing, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada is certainly facing a problem, because the programs currently managed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation will lapse in 2020. Action must therefore be taken in this regard. The federation is worried. I think it will be reassured that Parliament is paying attention to the situation.

It is the same for day care. In fact, child care and early childhood education centres make up Quebec's second-largest employer. Co-operatives are the major player in this area.

There is a wide range of co-operatives. There are laundry co-ops, funeral co-ops, health co-ops and agricultural co-ops. Agricultural co-operatives are a good example. If they did not exist, some rural communities would disappear, and this is why it is so important for hundreds, if not thousands, of communities in Canada to have co-operatives that know they are supported by government policies.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Lise St-Denis Liberal Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate it if my colleague would explain a little more about the human side of co-operatives.

What impact do these co-operatives have on people in small towns, for example, regarding their current attitude toward going to big box stores and other places that are, to some extent, absolutely dehumanized?

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to have been asked this question, because I have not spoken enough about the human aspect of co-operatives.

The co-operatives belong to their members. They are responsible for the way in which they deal with their clients and their employees. Most of the time, they are neighbours and people who know each other well. So of course, these people are more civil than when they go to a department store belonging to people they do not know and whose only objective is to make the greatest profit they can. Co-operatives have the well-being of their communities and best interests of their members at heart. Frequently, most of the people in the town will belong to the co-operative.

It was a wonderful idea that Alphonse Desjardins had for the financial area, and others built on his idea in the areas of agriculture, retailing, funerals and so on. The only limit to what can be done with co-operatives is the imagination. Co-operatives are built on warm, sincere, human principles that are, I think, respected by all the members in this House.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his most eloquent speech on what is indeed a very exciting issue. When I was a lot younger, I had the opportunity of being part of a housing co-op. I really got a sense of what it means to pool resources and talents, since we are talking about the human aspect.

The United Nations decreed 2012 the International Year of Co-operatives. In my colleague's opinion, have the Conservatives decided to make cutbacks specifically this year simply because they were lazy, or was it a deliberate act of defiance?

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would not have gone down that path had it not been for the response that I got on May 18 from the minister responsible for co-operatives. When I asked him what had been done since January 12, when the International Year of Co-operatives was launched, to celebrate the role and support for co-operatives in Canada, he replied that all 9,000 co-operatives were doing very well, that they had contributed 150,000 jobs, and a couple of hundred billion dollars in investment, and therefore did not need help.

I was surprised to hear that from the government spokesman, so much so that I decided to pursue the issue, without really going on the attack. These co-operatives mean a great deal to 18 million Canadians. I cannot accept the fact that the Conservatives went to the United Nations in 2009 and said that they would support the International Year of Co-operatives and that they would do what needed to be done in Canada, but when a question was asked in May, they responded by saying that the co-operatives do not need the government's help.

If we take our job as parliamentarians seriously, we must respect our commitment to the co-operatives and to the International Year of Co-operatives, and use this year to do what must be done.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I know that the member is trying to get to a consultation through this motion. He mentioned the question he raised with the minister and that the minister basically said that they were on their own.

My question for the member is this: what will the impact of the budget cuts be on co-operatives? The rural co-operative development program has been cut from $20 million to $5.2 million, and the Rural Secretariat has been cut in staffing from 92 to 15. Those are serious cuts. Does the member foresee see a negative impact on the development of future co-operatives and on the maintenance of some that need community assistance now?

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Liberal Ottawa—Vanier, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thought it regrettable that a program that was created in 2003 and renewed in 2008 has ended in March of this year. That was the one to help co-operatives in terms of capital and to help them get up and running. That is gone, and it was a key program for co-operatives.

In regard to the other one, the secretariat, I have seen letters sent to the government, copied to me in my role as Advocate for Cooperatives, that question why that has been done. The letter writers are waiting for an answer. In sum, the people at the co-operatives feel that this decision and the changes in those two programs are not very advantageous to them.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before we resume debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, Rights and Democracy; the hon. member for Haute-Gaspésie—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, Parks Canada.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry.

Opposition Motion—CooperativesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to take this opportunity to highlight the importance of co-operatives to the Canadian economy.

There are around 9,000 co-ops in Canada, with 18 million members and assets of over $252 billion. They make important contributions to the economy across the country and employ approximately 150,000 people.

Our government is squarely focused on the economy. Our government has a plan to create jobs and growth and secure our long-term prosperity. This plan remains our top priority.

In the last six years, we have worked to strengthen Canada's business climate and make it one of the most attractive in the world. We have cut taxes. We have engaged the world to promote freer trade. We have welcomed foreign investors. We have modernized our laws. We have made timely and necessary investments in Canadian industry and infrastructure.

These efforts are working, and they have not gone unnoticed. Both the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development forecast that Canada will be among the fastest-growing economies in the G7 this year and next. Forbes magazine has identified Canada as the number one destination to do business in the world.

This strong investment climate will benefit the co-operative sector and all Canadians, and it is particularly vital in order to help Canadians successfully navigate the uneven global economic recovery.

Looking forward, we are working to ensure that Canadians remain well positioned to take advantage of global opportunities and to build from a position of relative strength. We have a renowned and robust banking sector. We have been actively engaging international partners to open new markets, and our economy continues to add jobs and inspire growth.

Co-operatives have an important role to play in our economy, generating jobs and growth in Canada and around the world. That is why the United Nations proclaimed 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives. The International Year of Cooperatives is a unique opportunity for all co-operatives to promote their achievements and to raise awareness of the co-operative model.

Canadians have been trailblazers in this field. The first credit union in North America, the Caisse populaire de Lévis in Quebec, was founded in 1900 by Alphonse Desjardins. It has expanded substantially over the past century to become the largest co-operative financial group in Canada.

We are taking steps to facilitate continued growth. Building upon our budget 2010 commitment to allow credit unions to incorporate as federal entities under the Bank Act and operate across provinces under one regulatory umbrella, our government is working to bring these provisions into force once regulations are finalized.

Our government fully recognizes the importance of co-operatives, as they generate sustainable jobs and reinforce our economy. We are actively working to contribute to their growth.

I would now like to take a few minutes to talk about how the co-operative model works and the unique role co-operatives play in the Canadian economy.

A co-operative is an enterprise owned by members who use its services. Generally established by a group of people who share a common need, co-operatives allow those people to pool their resources toward a common goal.

Today we find co-operatives across all sectors of the Canadian economy, providing financial services, health care and housing services, to name just a few, in both urban and rural communities.

The Prime Minister put it aptly during National Co-op Week last year, when he said:

Co-operatives have helped many people and organizations find solutions to social and economic challenges in their communities...

Indeed, co-operatives are an important part of the Canadian economy. Canadian co-operatives have more than 18 million members. They directly employ approximately 150,000 Canadians and can be found in communities across the country.

Non-financial co-operatives alone do almost $36 billion a year in business. All Canadian co-operatives are estimated to hold more than $252 billion in assets. These assets are owned by the members and communities the co-ops serve.

Lastly, at least seven co-ops are listed in Canada's top 500 companies.

Guided by the principle that members should have democratic control of the enterprise, the co-operative model ensures that each member is an equal decision-maker in the enterprise by using a one member, one vote approach.

This is a fundamental difference between co-operatives and investor-owned businesses, where a shareholder is entitled to a number of votes equivalent to the number and type of shares he or she owns in the company.

Another key difference is in the sharing of the surpluses of the enterprise. Under the co-operative model, the surpluses earned by the co-operative may be paid into the reserve or to the co-op's members in the form of patronage returns proportional to the business that each member does with the co-operative. In contrast, investor-owned businesses may reinvest in the company or distribute profits in the form of dividends according to the rights for each class of shares.

In Canada, co-operatives can be formed under either federal, provincial or territorial legislation. Co-operatives have been operating for over 100 years under provincial authority. In 1970, the federal government followed suit with the Canada Co-operative Associations Act. That legislation was updated in 1998 with the enactment of the Canada Cooperatives Act, which now governs federally incorporated co-ops.

This act recognizes the importance of co-operatives to the economic and social fabric of Canada. Significantly, it was originally drafted by the stakeholders themselves, the two main national organizations that represent co-operatives: the Canadian Co-operative Association and Le Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité.

When the Canada Cooperatives Act was introduced in the House of Commons, it received all-party support. The act received royal assent in 1998 and came into force on December 31, 1999.

I will share a little about how the act works and its key features.

Co-ops that do business in more than one province can incorporate under the federal act. Interestingly, of the over 9,000 co-operatives in Canada, only 76 are federally incorporated.

One of the important features of the 1998 update to the act is that it allowed co-operatives to incorporate as a right. It eliminated the previously existing ministerial discretion. It simplified the complex rules that used to govern the incorporation of co-operatives. Now the act gives co-operatives the capacity, rights, powers and privileges of an actual person, similar to what business corporations have. In short, the 1998 act put co-operatives on a level playing field with other marketplace participants while still protecting their distinctiveness.

As with businesses incorporated under the Canada Business Corporations Act, co-operatives may incorporate, pass bylaws, elect directors and engage in economic and social activity, depending on their individual mandates. They are businesses just like other types of corporations. Indeed, many co-operatives are extremely successful businesses, having stronger returns on investment than their non-co-op counterparts.

What makes a co-operative different is how decisions are made. In investor-owned corporations, directors are elected by the shareholders. These directors oversee and manage the day-to-day operations of the corporation. The directors make and pass bylaws that drive the corporation's economic success.

Under the co-operative model, the enterprise must be organized, operated and administered on a co-operative basis. Co-ops elect directors just as other companies do, but these directors do not make bylaws, the members do. The members elect the directors and the members control the co-op.

Co-ops, just like other companies, need financing. Co-ops have several options for raising capital. The traditional method of financing co-ops is through the sale of membership shares. The 1998 act provided co-ops with a new financing opportunity. They are now allowed to issue investment shares to the public, just like other corporations, to raise capital. However, these shares do not carry the same voting rights as membership shares in recognition of the principle that members are equal decision-makers in the enterprise.

Of course, this is not the only source of financing available to co-operatives. The government provides financial support for co-ops through a number of agencies, such as the Business Development Bank of Canada, FedNor, Western Economic Diversification Canada and Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, among many others.

Looking out internationally, the government has committed almost $20 million through the Canadian International Development Agency to the Canadian Co-operative Association's program called “sustainable livelihoods through co-operatives”, which aims to promote the co-operative model to support economic growth and improved food security in communities in a number of countries, including Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Here at home, we have invested in co-ops across the country, including over $2 million in the High Prairie Seed Cleaning Co-op in Alberta and $450,000 in the Farmers' Markets Association of Manitoba.

In Quebec, we have contributed over $100,000 to create a new co-op lead interpretation centre of the history of economic and social development of the Gatineau River.

We are supporting the Akulivik Cooperative Association with over $200,000 for the construction of a hotel in Akulivik, which will replace the only hotel in the community and will provide more modern accommodation for business travellers and other visitors to the area.

With these investments, we have recognized that cooperatives can and do operate successfully under the act, and have for over a decade. They contribute to the Canadian economy in a unique way. They are innovative and entrepreneurial. Co-operatives create jobs and fuel economic growth, and this government supports them fully.

The government has been monitoring the Canada Cooperatives Act since its inception. Amendments have been made to it. For example, in 2001, the act was amended to permit electronic communications between members and the co-operative. These actions kept it aligned with our other marketplace framework laws, such as the Canada Business Corporations Act and the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act.

However, 14 years is a long time. We need to ensure that our regulatory environment promotes competition, investment and economic growth. Co-operatives are an important part of that growth.

Before I conclude, I have the following amendment to the motion to ensure that this issue is studied in the appropriate committee: That the motion be amended by: (a) replacing the words “a special committee be appointed to” with “the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology”; and (b) deleting in section (e) the following words “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 a manner provided for in Standing Order 114(2).