That, in the opinion of the House, the government should recognize the important role co-operatives play in the economy and ensure that they continue to thrive by taking concrete steps such as: (a) developing, in consultation with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous communities and the co-operative sector, a federal co-operative strategy to promote and support Canada’s co-operative sector; and (b) providing periodic progress reports on pre-established goals and targets.
Mr. Speaker, hon. colleagues, I would like to first thank my colleague, the hon. member for St. John's East, for seconding this motion.
The purpose of Motion No. 100, entitled “Role of Co-operatives”, is to develop and implement a strategy to promote and support Canada's co-operative sector.
Some may wonder why I came up with this motion and moved it. I am very pleased to have the next few minutes to explain. I moved this motion because the growth and success of the co-operative and mutual sector align perfectly with our government's objectives. These objectives will strengthen our country and invigorate and diversify our economy through the creation of long-term, well-paid, high-calibre jobs. This motion will generate competition by lowering the cost of goods and services and giving consumers better choices.
It is an all-around win.
The government and I believe that when we have an economy that works for the middle class, we have a country that works for everyone. In many cases, co-operatives are better than conventional businesses at creating an environment that strengthens the middle class and those working hard to join it.
These are the reasons I am here today to debate and defend this motion.
It is my belief and that of many of my colleagues that the Government of Canada must continue to recognize the important role that co-operatives and mutuals play in the Canadian economy and ensure that the sector continues to thrive. There have been some efforts to recognize that today's co-operative sector is as diverse and innovative as the economy itself. However, these efforts have not been sufficient.
Historically, co-operatives have been associated with agriculture and agrifood; whereas today, co-operatives have evolved as an innovative model in almost every sector of Canadian and global economies. In 2013, responsibility for co-operatives moved from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to Industry Canada. It was a move that was meant to reflect how the co-op model has grown, and that also began to consider co-operatives as equal to sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporations. This represents modest progress in the way that co-operatives and the co-operative model must be supported by the government.
That said, this change did not include a mandate to provide coordination and co-operation between government departments and other levels of government or with the co-operative sector itself. This also means that the department cannot implement any policies that would have a positive impact on the development of co-operatives, address deficiencies in our economy and, ultimately, benefit Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
This government has ambitious plans to grow our economy, help the middle class, and support those working hard to join it. Industry Canada has been renamed and reorganized. Now called Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, the department is focused on its ambitious innovation agenda, which will help achieve the objectives of the government. Co-operatives and mutuals have a role to play in that agenda, and adopting Motion No. 100 is a crucial step in ensuring that they are an integral part of that strategy.
Co-operatives are inherently innovative. They are created in order to meet people's needs and to serve the people, first and foremost. In my riding, Brossard—Saint-Lambert, we have excellent co-ops that offer vital services with a real focus on customer service.
For instance, Coop Aide Rive-Sud, an in-home support co-operative, provides a range of services including housekeeping, meal preparation, errands, laundry, and hairdressing. The co-op's membership has grown steadily since 1997, and so has the number of jobs created for the worker members, who are all employees of the co-operative.
The user members rely on the dedicated work of over 130 worker members who are proud of being instrumental in bettering quality of life at home. Of course, home care is a growing challenge in Canada, and co-operatives are a sustainable model for client-focussed service.
Another inspiring example of innovation through a co-operative model is La Guilde co-operative in Montreal, formed two years ago. It is a collective of 72 video games programming boutiques that have grouped together to scale up to compete in a global video game market.
Based on a democratic structure and built on a model of non-profit producing co-operatives, La Guilde has equipped itself to respond in a sustainable way to the real needs of independent game developers in Montreal. Using the concept of shared services, these independent, creative students are now a stable sustainable ecosystem that can build out into an expanding global industry and compete with established giants such as Ubisoft.
By implementing a framework to promote the development of co-operatives and mutuals in Canada and by fully exploring a strategy on how co-operatives can participate in the growth of every region and every emerging sector, we can maximize the positive spinoffs from the co-operative model in Canada.
Quebec has felt the impact that co-operatives can have on local economies. In the 1970s, Quebec had the highest funeral costs in Canada. In order to address this issue, people organized themselves under the co-operative model and, in the decades that followed, Quebec became the province with the lowest priced funeral services, services that constitute an emotional and financial burden for most Canadian families.
In its report, the Special Committee on Co-operatives, chaired by our late colleague, the Hon. Mauril Bélanger, quotes a brief submitted by the Institut de recherche et d'éducation pour les coopératives et les mutuelles of the Université de Sherbrooke. It reads:
...the presence of funeral cooperatives in Quebec for nearly three decades has had and continues to have a regulating effect by lowering the price of funerals in Quebec by 50%....
Many national co-operative success stories would not exist today without the strategic partnership and initiative of the federal government of the time.
More than 50 years ago, Arctic Co-operatives Ltd. began commercializing arts and craft production for harvesting and commercial fisheries. These traditional activities became the core business of the early local co-operatives, which would become a network of 32 community-owned co-ops, providing northern peoples with fuel, tourism, food, and employment. Arctic Co-ops is now a successful and internationally recognized example of do-it-yourself community economic development in the Canadian north. As of 2012, Arctic Co-ops ranked 24th in Canada among non-financial co-ops, based on total revenues. This success was partially the result of federal encouragement and support. There are many examples of successful models, domestically and internationally, that offer strategic possibilities to fill economic gaps and meet social needs in Canada.
This debate is an opportunity to draw the attention to what a national co-operative development strategy might provide for Canadians from all walks of life: rural or urban, first nations and Métis, young entrepreneurs, official language minority communities, the growing freelance sector, and new Canadians. Co-operatives offer a point of entry and participation in the innovation economy.
The co-operative movement is a global one, and offers countless examples of innovative and stable economic development that we must learn from. Canada has not been quite as successful as comparable economies in developing the co-operative and mutual sector for our own domestic benefit. We rank 31st in percentage of GDP generated by our co-operative and mutual sector. In a country where 18 million people are members of a co-operative or mutual, half of the population, and 3.4% of our GDP is attributable to co-operatives, we can do more, and we can certainly do better.
Consider for example countries such as New Zealand, the Netherlands, and France. It is important to note that these countries have returned to the co-operative model in recent years, specifically in the renewable energy, health care, and entrepreneurial co-operative sectors, thus allowing professionals to share their resources while remaining independent.
With this motion, I am continuing the work begun by the Hon. Mauril Bélanger, which deserves all of our respect since the special committee's report was written in a completely co-operative manner. If Motion No. 100 is adopted, it will give the government the mandate to develop a framework and strategy for co-operative development. This mandate is the catalyst needed for the government to act on the recommendations made by the Special Committee on Co-operatives, launched by Mauril about five years ago during the International Year of Co-operatives.
It has already been five years. I hope members will all agree with me that it is time to move forward with recommendations to draft a plan, create a framework, and find a way forward.
This motion builds on the work that has already been done. The wording of Motion M-100 is clear. If the motion is adopted, support from the House of Commons for developing a strategy to enhance the co-operative economy in Canada will be solidly established.
Mauril often said that co-operatives, especially those that are starting up, face tremendous challenges getting financing and that the federal government has a role to play in helping them. That is precisely what this motion seeks to address.
I want to be clear on certain aspects of the motion. Motion M-100 seeks to directly help small- and medium-sized co-operatives that might be stalled or experiencing very slow growth. It does not seek to help the very large co-operatives such as Desjardins, La Coop fédérée, Federated Co-operatives Limited, and Agropur, for example. Those co-operatives are strong enough to succeed as businesses and do not require additional support.
Small and medium-sized co-ops, on the other hand, face challenges that regular businesses do not. Access to capital, the lack of a legal framework, and the dismal availability of data and statistics are just a few examples. Who in a co-operative, with many involved member-owners, would take out a loan or mortgage on behalf of the whole co-operative? Which banking institution would lend to a co-operative where it is unclear who will be responsible in the case of the co-operative defaulting?
Currently, data and accessibility to statistics on co-ops are unreliable and incomplete. Centralizing the data would be a tangible step to help co-op leaders make sound decisions. The most recent studies and research posted under “Co-operatives policy” on the government site are not current. In fact, the most recent study dates from 2012, but there is nothing after that.
While I will not go into detailed proposed solutions, I will share a few of them today as possibilities to consider. The first one would be to develop a co-operative investment strategy. Second would be to ensure equitable access to funding for co-operatives. Third would be to establish a legislative framework to enable financial and non-financial co-operatives to do business and grow the sector, and there are many more.
As my time is coming to a close, I strongly encourage my colleagues from both parties to vote in favour of strengthening the co-operative and mutual sector.
Motion No. 100 could give the Department of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development the mandate needed to fully explore the opportunities and synergies that a stable and locally based co-operative economy could create in all parts of Canada.
Parliamentarians are elected by Canadians to meet our collective needs. Co-operatives and mutuals are never imposed on communities. They become established to meet common needs and are democratically responsible to their members. It is the responsibility of all members from all parties to give the public service a strong mandate so that this strategy can take shape and become a reality.
Mr. Speaker and esteemed colleagues, thank you for listening to me. I look forward to working with you to help boost our economy, increase competitiveness, and create jobs.