Historical changes are underway for the co-operative sector in Canada as the country’s two main co-operative federations merge. As of today, the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Canadian Council of Co-operation and Mutuals (Conseil canadien de la cooperation et de la mutualité CCCM) will form the bilingual association Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.
“We have been talking about this for many years,” said Léo Leblanc, the president of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.
Along with the creation of the Canadian Council of Co-operatives and Mutuals, a new website – www.canada.coop – and visual identity has been launched. From now on, the work of the CCA will focus solely on international development.
Mr Leblanc said that both CCA and the CCCM agreed that if members were to get the full benefit of a world-class organisation, they needed to work together and join resources. In sectors such as finance or agriculture, co-operatives are already joining efforts to meet the needs of their members. However, everytime an organisation wants to compete globally, it needs to make sure the partners can actually build a synergy, thinks Mr Leblanc.
“These are not easy questions because we developed separate entities and we both have our strengths and areas that need further development,” he said.
Canada is a country with two realities that evolved around the French and Anglophone culture, and the new association will help represent both cultures. The CCA and the CCCM had been operating separately since their creation in 1906 and, respectively, 1946. The co-operative sector in Canada includes 9,000 co-operatives with 18 million members, 50% of which are francophone.
The bilingual association will provide a national perspective, enabling sectors to develop strategies providing assistance and lobbying the government, providing assistance and filling members’ needs, according to Mr Leblanc. He added: “It’s a matter of getting together both with Anglophiles and Francophiles and say to the government here’s what we can do. We can meet the needs of Canadians in those sectors.”
Under the leadership of executive director Denise Guy, Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada will work with the sector to explore co-operative development strategies and promote them to the federal government. The association will include 14 members, six of which represent large members, with the other eight elected at large.
Co-op Atlantic, a group of agricultural and food co-operatives across Atlantic Canada and Quebec, has had a bilingual policy for 30 years. As vice-president of human resources and corporate affairs at Co-op Atlantic, Mr Leblanc has seen how successful the policy has proved to be.
Coming from a family of co-operators, he began his co-operative journey at an early age. He first found out about co-operatives from his grandfather who had obtained a loan from the local credit union (caisse populaire). Unable to get a loan from the bank, his grandfather went to the local credit union (caisse populaire), which lent him money on a handshake.
“He would ask periodically if we were depositing money in the caisee; it became a way of life. When I went to school I was looking for co-ops to get involved in.” After graduating he joined Coop Atlantic, where he has been working for 36 years.
“We have people that have started co-ops in this country with one discussion at the time, around the kitchen table. If they could see what the movement has become today, they would say – you have a tremendous opportunity to have everyone in the country as a member of a co-op. In Canada right now half of the population belong to co-ops.”