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Canadian co-ops elevate casual to a new level

by Tony Patterson at Co-op Canada Accelerator

In Canada it takes a little longer.

Enough has been said about taking more than a century to bring together French and English players in the cooperative movement, finally accomplished this year (April 1, 2014). Now the target of the newly minted Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada (CMC) is to create “a world-class environment for co-operatives and mutuals to grow and thrive” —  by 2024.

CMC, which claims to represent *18,000,000 members in 9,000 co-operatives, credit unions and mutual insurance companies across Canada, has a strategic plan. It hasn’t had much time to think for itself, much consumed as it has been with biculturation for the past couple of years, so it has gratefully adopted the Blueprint of the International Co-operative Association. As it says in its annual report, “The CMC Strategic Plan aligns with the five pillars of the ICA Blueprint — participation, identity, capital, legal, sustainability.” All very well. But 2024?

The ICA Blueprint calls for making co-ops the “fastest growing form of enterprise by 2020.” The decision of the new Canadian apex organization to give itself a four year extension to this deadline, until 2024, is unexplained.

Unexplained and inexplicable, with all the givens the movement has enjoyed recently. Desjardins and the International Co-operative Alliance agreed to repeat this October the Quebec Summit for co-op business executives inaugurated in 2012. This is a critical success for Canada, but apart from the singular involvement of Desjardins CEO Monique Leroux, who has her own agenda, it can’t be said to proceed from the Canadian movement, let alone CMC. Which doesn’t mean it can’t be used to advantage here. Of course it can and should and will be. But it’s a deal done by others.

CMC is also the beneficiary of whatever residual glow continues from 2012, the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives. A parliamentary committee emerged by surprise that year to give co-ops their first political nod in a half century. A $1 million research project to “measure the cooperative difference” came from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to a consortium of universities centered at St. Mary’s U. in Halifax.

CMC can’t claim credit for any of this but it all provides something of a head start on the goals set by IAC for 2020. That’s the world deadline. In Canada it takes a few years longer. 2024 or bust!

* 18 million isn’t quite bogus but it must be noted that double counting of members who belong to more than one co-op inflates this number and that about half of the impressive total are members of just two co-ops, Desjardins and Mountain Equipment. Ten million individual members may be nearer to reality.

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SCAN1 (Tony Patterson)
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