Quebec Summit needs more cooperation


Blue Inukshuks 500X213There are five parts to Accelerator’s Action Plan for a Co-op Nation in response to the 2020 Challenge issued by the International Cooperative Alliance (IAC). The two that raise most questions are the coalition we propose to advance the cooperative agenda with government and our enthusiastic endorsement of the International Summit of Cooperatives, the Quebec Summit.
The other suggestions Accelerator puts forward are no-brainers. Now that they’ve achieved the long overdue merger of the various co-op groups divided by language, cooperators should
A. Establish a list of priorities. The eight recommendations that came early last year from the special parliamentary committee on co-operatives is a very watered-down agenda framed by government and reflecting little consultation let alone consensus within the movement. It’s long past time to come together to define what co-ops really need or want
B. Strengthen alliances with complementary interests (progressive politics, unions, academia, religious organizations, social networks). Is it too much to hope for anything as progressive as the Labour-Cooperative candidates in Britain who did so much to further the movement while Tony Blair was in power? Mr. Mulcair might be reminded that the NDP started life as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation
C. Raise a significant development fund to help make the cooperative form of business, as ICA challenges in its 2020 Vision, “the fastest growing form of enterprise.” CCA’s current target of a $20 million fund is far short of what’s needed. $20 million doesn’t get much done. A favourite illustration is the Canadian Museum of Nature. The building is a couple of blocks away, along the street in Ottawa where I live at the Catalpa housing co-op. It recently (2010) completed a five year renovation at a cost of $250 million. Well spent, of course, because the Museum of Nature is in the historic Victoria Memorial Museum Building, the birthplace of all of Canada’s national museums and home of Canada’s Parliament for four years after fire destroyed the Parliament Buildings in 1916. It’s a large building but not huge. Just four storeys above ground. Of course it’s old, built in 1905, and needed a lot of electrical, water, heating and ventilation upgrades, as well as structural reinforcement “to ensure the building meets seismic codes.” Still, a quarter of a billion dollars!! Now that’s a lot of money. $20 million for co-op development coast-to-coast is risible.
The coalition question is dealt with here. The co-op movement has been frustrated in dealing with Ottawa for more than a century. It speaks with too many voices, not usually in chorus. If it wants to compete effectively for its place and share of the infrastructure, it has to learn the power game.
Establish priorities. Stengthen alliances. Raise money. Lobby effectively. Four parts of the Accelerator Action Plan.
?????The fifth part is actually the first of the plan to be activated and may serve, if properly cultivated, as something of a binder for all the others. The fifth part is to embed the international cooperative summit in Quebec City as a biennial mix of the best and brightest of the co-op sector with global opinion leaders and decision makers.
In January ICA confirmed that its board had unanimously agreed to a second summit, given the resounding success of the pilot edition in 2012 that attracted nearly three thousand co-op leaders from around the world. A month later, primary sponsor and co-host Desjardins Group announced the date: October 6-9, 2014. And place: Quebec City.
Accelerator has put the Quebec Summit front and centre of the 2020 Action Plan for good reason. Properly managed, nothing will draw as much attention to the movement in Canada as will the Summit.
It will draw public attention by providing an event to attract media coverage. It should also become a venue where the Canadian business and political establishment meet with co-op leaders and become familiar with opportunities provided by cooperation.
The Quebec Summit has a ring to it. It could easily grow to mean something significant within the global cooperative movement. That’s certainly the hope of ICA and Desjardins and the two CEOs there – Monique Leroux at Desjardins and Dame Pauline Green at IAC – who have made common cause in shaping the event. A successful second Summit has potential to develop into a Davos-like world leadership forum for co-ops in the historic birthplace of Canada and just across the river from where the movement had a start in Canada at Lévis, Québec.
The chance to be there shouldn’t be missed by anyone focused on ICA’s 2020 Challenge. If all goes well, there will be four Quebec Summits between now and then, culminating in October 2020. Each will be a marker, a milestone in the efforts to achieve ICA’s objectives for a “cooperative decade”. And by then, one hopes, it will be a tradition with a large following and a long future.
But to build the Quebec Summit successfully isn’t going to be a simple task. Last year’s event was a smash hit but it had the advantage of a launch during the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives and even then it didn’t make any money. Desjardins picked up the loss and is willing to do it again next year. Desjardins is doing a community service, certainly, but it also gains advantage as a mover and shaker in the world of co-ops, which make it a principle to deal with one another. So for a time it’s a sound business decision to backstop the Summit. That may not be the case forever. ICA hasn’t any money. If the major corporate sponsor should change its direction or its CEO and pull away, there are always opportunists lurking with intent to snatch a good thing. We had an object lesson this month when Qatar made an abortive bid to pluck the HQ of the International Civil Aviation Organization away from Montreal, its home since 1947. There are many organizations in the co-op world with the resources to take over the Quebec Summit if need be. But they might well convert it into the Paris Summit or the Boston Summit. That would be a loss for Canada’s co-op sector.
The first Quebec Summit was successful in itself but failed dismally to attract public attention. There was virtually zero media coverage apart from local French-language outlets covering provincial ministers who used the Summit platform to make announcements. This was despite big bucks spent on advertising (at least two Globe and Mail supplements) and media relations.
The Quebec Summit must be more than a blowout for the international co-op elite. It’s the opportunity to create a stage where achievements can be showcased and players from all sectors in Canada can talk co-op comfortably. It’s the opportunity to use the Summit as a driver for co-op development in Canada.
The event is tightly controlled by its lead sponsors. This is as it should be, since the risk is theirs. But Desjardins is primarily focused in Québec and ICA is far away in Geneva, not necessarily the best connected either in the world of modern media or the larger segment of Canada’s cooperative sector. They could use some help to ensure that a great idea with a good start grows strong and enjoys a certain future. In short, the Summit needs more cooperation and participation from the sector itself. Finding a format that broadens support for the Quebec Summit within the Canadian co-op community should be one of the early goals of the apex organization that emerges from the joint June Congress.