The strength, scope and dynamism of the Canadian co-operative sector is one of Canada's best-kept secrets. It's not that the co-op movement wants it that way; it's just that Canadian journalists don't pay much attention to co-operatives.
Well, the secret is now out, thanks to the president of the International Co-operative Alliance, Dame Pauline Green. She stopped in Ottawa on the way back from the International Year of Co-operatives launch in New York and the Canadian Co-operative Association sought her help in promoting the International Year with the Canadian media.
The result: two major radio interviews, one with All in a Day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's local afternoon program in Ottawa, and one with The Current, the network's flagship national morning radio show.
Rather than get her on tape while Dame Pauline was in Canada, The Current broadcast the interview live from the CBC's London studio upon her return to the U.K. She filled most of a half-hour segment on the popular program, which also included a clip from Tim Southam, communications manager of Canada's Mountain Equipment Co-op, a retail co-op specializing in outdoor gear with more than 3.5 million members. And to add a little controversy, host Jim Brown called upon University of Toronto professor Joseph Heath, who argued that co-operatives are not much different from traditional corporations.
Unfazed by Dr. Heath's critique, Dame Pauline was quick to respond:
"Yes, we do produce a surplus, but it's what we do with that surplus that's different. We invest in our business, we invest in our people and we invest in our communities."
She concluded the interview by saying that the co-operative movement needs "greater visibility and profile for our model of business, and that's why the International Year is important."
If the Canadian reaction to Dame Pauline is any indication, obtaining that visibility and profile may not be too far off.
You can hear The Current's November 4 segment on co-operatives, including Dame Pauline Green's interview, at www.cbc.ca.