In previous messages I informed you about the establishment of the first All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives on Parliament Hill and the fact that the inaugural meeting of the Caucus was held on March 25. We held our second meeting on May 7th and like last time, Members of Parliament from all political parties attended.
We heard from representatives of Federated Co-operative Limited, Agropur Coopérative and Ontario Co-operative Association.
Federated Co-operative Limited (FCL) describes itself as a multi-faceted organization that is based on the principles of co-operation and owned by approximately 235 retail co-ops located throughout Western Canada. These co-operatives are “member-owners” of FCL. FCL provides central wholesaling, manufacturing, marketing and administrative services to its member-owners. FCL is the largest enterprise in Saskatchewan and the 48th in Canada. I had the chance last year to visit FCL’s Saskatoon home office in Saskatoon and the Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of FCL, based in Regina. It is quite overwhelming to discover FCL’s size and the scope of its operations. It’s literally a 24-hour, 7-days a week operation throughout Western Canada. Mr. Vic Huard, Vice President of Corporate Affairs and Ms. Pam Skotnitsky, Director of Government Relations, appeared before our caucus on behalf of FCL.
The Agropur cooperative, owned by 3,348 dairy farmers, is the largest Canadian dairy company with more than $3.8 billion a year in sales. It processes 25% of the milk produced in Canada. Its representatives mentioned the company’s nervousness over the impact of the Canada Europe Trade Agreement (CETA), the looming free-trade deal with the European Union, especially as it pertains to cheese and refined cheeses in particular. Mr. Serge Riendeau, Chairman of Agropur and a dairy farmer in Coaticook, and Ms. Lorraine Bédard, Corporate Secretary and Executive Vice-President of Legal Affairs and Members Relations, represented Agropur and answered questions from Caucus members.
The Ontario Co-operative Association (On Co-op) is the umbrella group for Ontario’s English-speaking co-operatives and credit unions. Its membership consists of over 60 co-operatives, federations and sector stakeholders. Ms. Céline Carrière, a Board member of On Co-op and the Executive Director of the Co-operative Housing Association of Eastern Ontario (CHASEO), shared with caucus members the challenge created by the elimination of The Co-operative Development Initiative (CDI) program by the Conservative government. She mentioned the difficulties facing start-up co-operatives, especially with regard to obtaining capital. The lack of knowledge within the federal and Ontario governments regarding the structure and governance of the co-operative business model was also highlighted.
I thank the 20 MPs who participated in this engaging meeting for their interest in coop matters. I also thank Ms. Denyse Guy, Executive Director of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada for attending and Mr. Shawn Murphy for his key work in the organization of the meeting. Rest assured that I will continue to encourage all interested Members to attend our monthly meetings. The establishment of the All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives have been a success enhancing awareness among all parties. My hope is that this all-party awareness will, one day, translate into full support from whatever party forms the government.
As always I will keep you posted on my various co-op related activities.
Honourable Mauril Bélanger, M.P. for Ottawa—Vanier
Liberal Advocate for Co-operatives