Canada’s co-op investment fund stalled


The newborn Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC) has tried to put a smile on it (see annual report, page 9) but no amount of grin can disguise the dismal non-performance of its Canadian Co operative Investment Fund (CCIF).
It has been aiming for $20 million, a woefully inadequate amount for a whole host of reasons, many of which are hashed here, but has succeeded in raising just $13 million. That number hasn’t moved in many months, a lapse the annual report doesn’t mention.
Of course ‘raised’ is the wrong word. Pledged. None of the $13 million is actually in the hands of CCIF. As CMC puts it, “It is expected that the fund will launch when $20 million has been pledged.”
This fund, meant “to support the development and expansion of individual co-operatives,” was originally scheduled to launch in 2013, when the $20 million was to be in the bank (pardon me, the CU/CP). It was being created under the “leadership of the Canadian Co-operative Association (one of CMC’s founding partners) with the support of a dedicated task force representing co-ops and credit unions across the country.”
It turns out the task force wasn’t so dedicated. The project manager in Vancouver soon proved difficult to reach (in fact Accelerator was never able to get updates from this source, despite five attempts). Apart from the three supporters — Vancity, The Co-operators and the Canadian Worker Co-operative Federation — that ‘pledged’ to launch the fund, there have been only three new ‘pledgers’, all western credit unions, in two years since.
CCIF is an initiative prompted by the sixth of seven basic cooperative principles, which says that co-ops “serve their members most effectively and strengthen the co operative movement by working together . . .” The idea was to help out by providing “access to capital that might not be available to co operatives elsewhere.”
It’s particularly embarrassing to note that the original intention was for the fund to launch “with between $20 million and $40 million in pledged sector support.” Even this was somewhat niggardly, given that a sectoral convention a few years earlier called for a fund of $70 million, leading ultimately to $200 million by 2020. That was then. Co-ops (or their leaders) apparently have grown more conservative since.
The CCIF result so far is dismal. CMC would do well to acknowledge it and find out what’s wrong instead of pretending that peelings are potatoes. If this mega-billion dollar sector can’t cough up $20 million for startups and growth, it can hardly be called a movement at all, except in the most anal sense.