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"The Scope of Canadian Co-ops"
by Ken Estey The Scope of Canadian Co-ops

The scope and scale of cooperation in Canada defies the modest caveat of ex-perimentation to which the cooperative movement in the United States is often relegated. Despite the long history of cooperative activity in the U.S., GEO's cooperative directory, An Economy of Hope, could only account for 300 cooperatives in the U.S. In Canada, a country that has one tenth the population of the United States, there are over 10,000 cooperatives. Even if credit unions are excluded, the number of cooperatives exceeds 6,000. In the Province of Quebec alone, there are over 2,000 non-financial cooperatives with assets exceeding $2 billion (Canadian).


The Canadian government considers the presence of cooperatives a vital component of their economy. The Co-operatives Secretariat based in Ottawa, Ontario has even published an informative brochure entitled Co-operatives: The Alternative Solution. Rather than viewing cooperatives as a hindrance to economic expansion, the Secretariat touts them as a potent economic force in the Canadian economy as a whole, and a source of jobs, income and community stability in many regions of the country. If one counts all cooperatives including credit unions and └caisses populaires,ö there are 15 million members and 70,000 volunteers who serve on boards and committees. Cooperatives employ over 150,000 Canadians with many in rural communities. Co-ops in Canada employed 50% more people in 1997 than in 1984 even though employment in Canada increased by only 20% in that same period. The combined assets of the cooperatives is over $167 billion (Canadian).

Further reinforcing the Cooperatives Secretariatís claim that cooperatives are a vital part of the Canadian economy is a study by the Quebec Ministry of Industry and Commerce. This study entitled Survival Rate of Cooperatives in Quebec, shows that 64% of new cooperatives still exist after five years, while only 36% of traditional companies still exist.

The prominence of cooperatives in the Canadian agri-food sector is undeniable. The Secretariat claims that agricultural cooperatives market 60% of all milk products, grains and oilseeds, and approximately 40% of all poultry and eggs produced in Canada. Nearly one out every two Canadian dollars received by farmers for their agricultural commodities in 1996 came from a farmer-owned cooperative.


Indigenous or native cooperatives in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and northern Quebec were formed in the 1960s and early 1970s. Excluding employment in government, cooperatives are the leading source of jobs. As community-based, member-owned businesses, there are 61 cooperatives representing the interests of 26,000 members and their families. In 1996, the wages paid in those regions totalled $29.9 million. The range of cooperatives is impressive including general merchandising retailing, hotels, taxi and transport services, commercial fisheries, bakeries and cable television services. The sales volume of all these native co-ops totalled almost $230 million.


According to the Secretariat, public service cooperatives (including housing, child care and health services) have the most promise for expansion. Given the restructuring of the Canadian health care system in Canada in the 1990s, two major issues have surfaced: the financial crisis of the welfare state with reduced social services and an increasingly aging population. Health co-ops which include home care service, health insurance and medical services have focused on preventive rather than curative medicine. In addition, co-ops have emphasized providing necessary medical services outside of hospitals and other in-home recovery programs. The number of health co-ops, providing health related services, rose 164% from 1987 to 1997. Another area for cooperative development is the member-owned child care cooperative. According to the Secretariat, such cooperatives offer a democratic means of monitoring and defining the quality of child care.


The cooperative sector in Canada has much to offer to cooperators and aspiring cooperators in the United States. Further exploration on technical exchange and intercooperation in Canada is necessary. We request input from our Canadian readership on whether the Canadian cooperative sector has been able to implement what cooperators in the United States have only been able to discuss abstractly.

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