Shaping Our Future! The 10th Annual Conference of the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation
By Blair Hamilton

During the third week of November the Canadian Worker Co-op Federation (CWCF) descended upon the pastoral peacefulness of Loyola House, on the outskirts of the small Canadian city of Guelph, Ontario. Amid the serene setting of a working farm and conference center operated by local Jesuits, over 50 participants engaged in thoughtful deliberation and rollicking good times.

Two full days of meetings by the CWCF Board were followed by a one-day workshop for the Worker Co-op Developers Network, and then by the larger CWCF Conference and Annual General Meeting. Each of these related events was infused by the enthusiasm of recent achievements and the opportunity to see old and new friends who share a commitment to economic democracy.

Amidst the skill development and non-stop networking were a number of highlights that bear reporting. The CWCF Investment Fund has been operating on a pilot basis for one year, and has approved 6 investments totalling just under a half million dollars. There has been a good deal of flow and a partnership is being formed with the RISQ Fund, to improve profile in Quebec.

The conference keynote address was delivered by Doug Davison, a senior vice-president with the Crocus Investment Fund, Canada’s only labor-sponsored investment fund with a mandate to promote employee ownership. Mr. Davison recounted the humble origins of Crocus, and suggested current efforts by the CWCF may eventually bear fruit in a similar way.

The CWCF Board used this conference to kick off a strategic planning process for future growth and development. The consensus is that Investment Fund activity will begin an upward spiral for the organization, culminating in a significant capital pool and much increased capacity.

A number of important resolutions were passed at the Annual Meeting. These included the creation of a Youth Advisor position to the Board, and the endorsement of the “Rio Declaration” stemming from the ICA meetings in Rio at the end of the year 2000. As well, the Canadian Co-operative Association shared a letter to the Canadian government concerning the aftermath of September 11th. This correspondence urged the government to increase its commitment to international development that can promote equity, democracy, and poverty reduction.

Perhaps the greatest highlights of the event occurred at the banquet celebrating the 10th anniversary of the CWCF. An award for outstanding cooperative achievement was conferred upon Jack Quarter, an important thinker, author, and advocate for worker co-ops in Canada over the past twenty years. The event also took the time to pause and acknowledge the contributions of founding directors, the staff, and important allies within government and the cooperative sector. As we know, movements are only built through the voluntary sacrifices of time and effort on the part of key leaders. Recognition of these efforts is key to understanding how and why successes have been achieved, and is a large part of what distinguishes the cooperative movement.

Executive Director Hazel Corcoran stated that “The CWCF has spent the past 10 years laying a foundation upon which to build economic democracy through developing worker co-ops. The movement is on the threshold of doing great things in the cause of grassroots workers’ democracy in Canada. Further, we are making important links to worker co-ops around the world, through the international federation of worker co-ops. These links among human beings and human-centred organizations are even more important since September 11th. To be recognized by my peers through both receiving an award and the standing ovation that followed, moved me beyond words, especially considering the rewards I receive on a daily basis contained both in the nature of the work and the people with whom I work.”

The conference closed amid a spirit of enthusiasm, and looking forward to a future pregnant with possibilities. Having “recharged our cooperative batteries”, we look forward to next year’s event, scheduled to occur in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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