A newly-created committee of the Canadian Parliament established to study the role and needs of co-operatives has started holding hearings in Ottawa.
The Special Committee on Co-operatives was created in June in response to a motion by Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, who was appointed his party's advocate for co-ops earlier this year. The committee's mandate is to explore:
- the strategic role of co-operatives in the Canadian economy;
- economic, fiscal and monetary policies for strengthening Canadian co- operatives as well as for protecting the jobs they create;
- the capitalization of co-operatives
- whether the 1998 Canada Co-operatives Act requires updating; and
- what tools the government can use to provide greater support and a greater role for Canadian co-operatives.
The committee is chaired by Blake Richards, a Conservative MP from Alberta, and consists of seven Conservative MPs, four MPs from the New Democratic Party (the Official Opposition party in Parliament) and Mr. Bélanger, representing the Liberal Party.
The committee heard its first witnesses on July 10, including representatives of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), Credit Union Central of Canada, the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, Gay Lea Foods Co-operative, The Co-operators and the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association. Witnesses from outside the co-operative and mutual sectors included representatives of the federal departments of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Industry and Finance as well as the Canadian Bankers Association and Farmers of North America.
In her presentation to the committee, CCA Executive Director Denyse Guy briefed the MPs on the important role co-operatives play in the Canadian economy and the difficulties co-ops have obtaining federal funding. Ms. Guy suggested that federal responsibility for co-operatives be transferred from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to Industry Canada, since Canada's co-operative sector "goes far beyond agriculture and farming."
"Our members are telling us that there is huge potential for growth and needs within our communities that could be met, but only if we have additional support, " she said. "We see partnership with government as a key way of building on our current results."
Additional committee hearings are scheduled for July 24-27; in all, the committee is expected to hear from more than 50 witnesses from within and outside the co-operative sector. The committee will also accept written submissions until August 7.
The committee is expected to table its report in Parliament in mid-September.