It was not the news Canadian co-operators wanted to hear during the International Year of Co-operatives.
Canada's co-operative movement learned this week that the country's only national program devoted to co-op development, the Co-operative Development Initiative (CDI), is being ended by the Canadian government, a victim of deficit-cutting measures in the government's 2012-13 budget. In addition, the size of the Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat, the office within Canada's agriculture department that serves as the primary link between the government and the co-operative sector, is being dramatically reduced.
According to Canada's two national co-operative associations, the cutbacks run counter to the government's stated goals of creating jobs, promoting partnerships between the public and private sectors and fostering innovation. They also call into question the government's support for the International Year, which Canada publicly endorsed when the United Nations resolution was adopted in 2009.
“If the government is truly committed to creating jobs and fostering innovation, we can’t understand why it would cut a program that cost very little – just over $4 million a year – and made a difference in hundreds of communities across the country,” said Denyse Guy, executive director of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), one of two national associations that jointly administer the CDI program on behalf of the government. “This program was a partnership between the public and private sectors; it created jobs, fostered innovation, and gave co-operatives the ability to leverage additional funds at the provincial and community levels.”
“The cuts in the CDI program and the Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat send a very disturbing signal for all Canadian co-operatives,” said Brigitte Gagné, executive director of the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité, which co-manages the program with CCA. “We view this as a lack of recognition of the importance of co-operatives in job creation and economic growth in this country. We don`t understand this decision, in light of the program’s success. We are now waiting for a concrete gesture on behalf of the government to show its support for the co-operative sector.”
More than 300 new co-ops were created with support from the CDI program since its inception in 2003. Over the past three years alone, CDI has provided advice and assistance to more than 1,600 groups interested in developing co-operatives and has aided the development of 700 existing co-ops.