Decade of penny pinching endorsed by new apex of co-ops


“Out with the old, in with the same old” Is the brave declaration of the brand new Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.
I speak primarily from my English side. I haven’t been on the job long enough to know the history of Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité (CCCM), the French equivalent of the former Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA). These are the two apex organizations that have emerged as CMC. A segment of CCA has continuing existence as the international development arm of Canada’s co-op movement, funded primarily by government.
CMC logo-237X61The old CCA hasn’t had a budget increase in more than a decade. CCCM may have been more aggressive, though that’s hard to imagine given the outcome of their marriage. That outcome is a “more of the same less is enough” approach to co-op development.
At the start of a new era of co-op unity in Canada, in the wake of the International Year of Cooperatives (2012), the overwhelming success of the Quebec Summit (at a hyped cost estimate of $10 million) and the challenge from the International Co-operative Alliance to make co-ops the fastest growing form of enterprise by 2020, CMC is poised for a great leap nowhere. The CMC budget for this year is $2,167,865. The CCA budget alone for 2013 was $2,344,525. For 2004, ten years before, it was $2,141,418. The operation has been in stand still mode for at least a decade.
Co-ops “would do well to market themselves better and develop more effective messaging,” says the Hon. Mauril Bélanger, co-chair of the parliamentary caucus on cooperatives.
It’s no secret, nobody denies, that the co-op sector has failed over many years to enter the mindscape of the general public or get onto the public policy agenda. Yet there’s great reluctance to address the obvious shortcomings of attempts to get there. Those looking for causes of the failure need look no farther than this. Co-ops put no money where their ambition is. If the piper must be paid, others will dip into their pockets sooner and deeper.
The union of CCA and CCCM was long past due. But it’s not sufficient by itself to get government policy, programs and regulations aligned with the goals of the cooperative movement. Co-ops have not been at the federal government table for generations. They’ve not been in the room. They’ve not been anywhere in sight.
As for development, the much ballyhooed Canadian Cooperative Investment Fund has been stalled for over a year at 65% of its goal of $20 million, which in itself is an amount so modest that it advertises how niggardly the sector behaves.
Undoubtedly there are co-op members who believe that two million dollars a year is just the right amount to be spending on member education and engagement programs, government relations, research, communications and development, which now are all the responsibility of CMC. That has been the view of CCA’s directors – at least the bigger dues payers among them, who control the agenda – as far back as anyone can remember. But it comes as something of a shock and disappointment that it continues to hold sway for CMC in the new day.