The first two months of 2014 have been busy ones. Despite that I have managed to keep active on my favorite file – co-operatives.
Visits in British Columbia
I started the year early in January with a visit to British Colombia, where I met with representatives of Vancity, BC Coop Association (BCCA) and Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC).
The British Columbia Co-operative Association (BCCA) is the umbrella organization that works on behalf of co-operatives and credit unions in British Columbia. The total membership in British Columbia’s co-operatives exceeds 2 million people. Collectively, these people control more than 48 billion dollars in assets through ownership of their co-operatives.
The Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, commonly known as Vancity, is a retail financial services provider and Canada’s largest credit union, with 417,000 members and consolidated assets of $14.5 billion. Vancity has 59 branches in the Metropolitan Vancouver area, in the Fraser Valley, and in the Squamish and Victoria areas. Its three broad objectives over and above being a profitable co-op are social justice, environmental sensitivity and community investments.
MEC is a retail consumer cooperative which sells affordable equipment and supplies for wilderness and recreational activities to individuals who join as members. It has roughly 3.3 million members in Canada and abroad. MEC had $302M in Annual Sales in 2012. Its co-operative spirit is reflected in its products, the material used, the people who fabricate them and in how they treat their own employees.
Solar Project Launch
On January 16, I attended a Solar Project Launch at the Collège catholique Samuel-Genest, a French Catholic junior high and high school, which is located in Ottawa–Vanier – the riding I have the honour of representing in the House of Commons. This project is a 75kW solar panel project installed on the roof of the school in a partnership between the school and the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op (OREC).
The cooperative will pocket the profits from the sale of this energy to the government of Ontario and, in return, pay rental fees to the school to use the space on the roof.
While the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est has already eight elementary schools with solar panels on their roofs, Samuel-Genest is the first high school of the board to provide such panels and more importantly, the first to partner with a co-operative.
It’s a great initiative that will serve to educate students about green energy and the importance of responsible consumption, while involving them in community engagement.
The Business Development Bank and Co-operatives
Towards the end of January, I wrote to Minister Moore pushing for the renewal of the Business Development Bank of Canada’s mandate, as I firmly believe that including co-operatives in the mandate will help co-operatives with capitalization. Therefore, I respectfully ask the Minister to finally conclude the review of the BDC’s mandate as required by the Business Development Bank of Canada Act and to table this review in the House of Commons as soon as possible. He responded that the review is forthcoming. I will keep you posted.
Québec City Visits
On February 18, I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Michel Jean and Mr. Michel Clément, respectively Director and Development Sector Coordinator of the Quebec Government’s Direction du développement des coopératives. The Direction encourages the development and growth of co-ops through various programs and through the administration of the Québec Co-ops Act. They discussed with me their relationship with the federal government. The Direction is doing a great job advocating for co-operatives and in their development. In 2008, they published a well researched and quoted report on the survival rate of co-operatives. In fact, they found that the survival rate of co-operatives is almost twice that of investor-owned companies (62% compared to 35% for investor-owned businesses after five years). Furthermore, once established, the co-operatives become self-sustaining and do not require ongoing support from the government. The co-operative movement has played a fundamental role in Quebec’s economic, social, and political history. Knowing that, I encouraged the Direction to continue their good work in the development of co-operatives. Before moving on to another subject here is an interesting fact: more than 450 co-operatives are offering childcare or early childhood education—these co-ops, by the way, are Quebec’s second-largest private employer!
On February 20, I met with Mr. Sylvain Fauchon, CEO of Le Groupe Promutuel. Le Groupe Promutuel generates revenues of $596 million per year making it 4th among damage insurers in the province of Québec. In addition to being a leader in insurance in Québec, Promutuel is also a pioneer in insurance. Promutuel Insurance, being established in all regions of Québec through its network of 26 mutual insurance associations, and having over 160 years of history in protecting the local population’s assets.
During my meeting with Mr. Fauchon, one of the subjects discussed was demutualization. It’s good to note that the 2014 federal budget indicated that the federal government proposes to introduce legislative and regulatory changes to establish a property and casualty demutualization framework. This is a very important file that I will take a close eye on over the coming year. It’s important to note that unlike the demutualization consultation for mutual life insurance companies in the late 90s, the consultation on the framework to establish a property and casualty demutualization framework mentioned in the federal budget does not mention the competitiveness or the financial soundness of the converted company.
While in Montréal to participate in the Biennial Convention of the Liberal Party of Canada, I met representatives of the Fédération des coopératives d’habitation intermunicipale du Montréal métropolitain (FECHIMM).
I met with Mr. Gregory Brasseur, coordinator, and two board members: Ms. Marie-Hélène Gascon and Mr.Pierre-Alain Cotnoir. We discussed the practical impact of the end of federal funding for low income co-operative housing units and the realities awaiting some families if the federal government withdraws completely.
As outlined in my press conference of August 2013, the consequences of the Conservative government’s decision to cut funding for low income co-operative housing units are very real. The Liberal Party of Canada has already called on the government to reverse course because we know that reducing federal support for affordable housing for the most vulnerable Canadians in definitely not the way to go. The instability in people’s lives that comes from homelessness has a tremendous cost on the rest of society. It makes it harder to rejoin the labour force, and causes declines in physical and mental health. For taxpayers, the costs of emergency services and shelters for the homeless are more expensive than providing them with a decent place to live.
I am committed to continuing the fight to ensure that co-operatives are better capitalized and that the housing subsidy agreements with housing co-operatives are renewed.
At the Liberal Biennial Convention, I was pleased that a policy resolution regarding Health Care submitted to the Convention by the Senior Liberals’ Commission entitled To Improve the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Canadian Health Care was adopted in a workshop. Among other things the resolution states “that the Liberal Party of Canada make innovation in healthcare delivery a priority, with serious consideration given to the successful Canadian cooperatives model and to the most effective experiences of progressive European nations”. This means that the Liberal Party is in agreement with the resolution and can use it in the development of their future policies. You will find the text of the resolution using the following link: http://www.liberal.ca/125-improve-effectiveness-efficiency-canadian-health-care/
All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives
In mid-February, I informed you about the upcoming establishment of an All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives. I would like to assure you that Conservative MP Joe Preston, NDP MP Hélène LeBlanc and I are moving forward with this initiative now that more than 12 members representing all parties have confirmed their desire to join such a caucus and we will have an inaugural organizational meeting on March 25.
I thank again Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada for their work in establishing and spearheading such a group of parliamentarians.
Whenever warranted, I will keep you posted on the work of this caucus.
Honourable Mauril Bélanger, M.P.
Liberal Advocate for Co-operatives