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Canadian Co-operative Capacity Building Program

The Canadian co-operative movement is a critical partner for the Government of Canada to advance an agenda of inclusive economic growth. Co-operatives create opportunity in communities , solve local challenges, enable job creation, promote access to democratic economic opportunities, and are proven to be more resilient in the face of adversity. 

A taylor-made Canadian Co-operative Capacity Building Program (CCBP) equipped with $30 million in federal funding would help co-operatives to eitehr start up, scale up, gain skills and expertise, or prepare for next steps ensuring they are ready to solve community challenges and meet needs across Canada. CMC is ready and able to be the National Fund Manager (NFM) for a program of non-repayable funding, as well as to coordinate and oversee the delivery of the program on behalf of the Government of Canada, as a trusted partner. 

The only recent historical federal investment into co-operative devleopment was the Co-operative Development Initiative (CDI) from 2003-2013, which aimed to “enhance the contribution of co-ops to meet the economic needs of Canadians by working collaboratively with local, regional, and national co-operatives, academics and government section stakeholders to create an enabling environment for co-op development and growth“. This program invested federal funds in a productive and measurable manner and had high uptake from existing and emerging co-operative that sough support – with 521 applications and 150 recipients in the final three-year period alone. 

The 2023 survey SME Profile: Co-operatives in Canada confirms that for-profits co-operatives were, on average, more resilient and larger than standard SMEs. They are statistically more locally oriented, more likely to have an online presence, more innovative, and were less likely to need to close operations temporarily during the pandemic. These favorable attributes are assets for the Canadian economy, but dedicated funding is required to enable enhanced capacity of co-operative enterprises. The coming years are an essential opportunity for the growth of the co-operatives, both existing and new. While co-operatives have had certain opportunities extended to include them among other eligible organization , through programming like the Investment Readiness Program and the Community Services Recovery Fund, the federal goverment has not specifically invested in co-operatives (other than those serving housing needs) in more than a decade. 

Co-operative enterprises, especially entities that are smaller and community-driven, struggle to connect to the federal programs that are not designed for their needs (exclusive criteria) or have inaccessible requirements (creating significant burden for co-op organizations hoping to apply). Most programs are not structured in a way that can asupport collective ownership/entrepreneurship, nor any conversions of private businesses to the co-operative model. 

Federal funding has been invested throught various organizations in supporting standard SMEs; for example, in 2019, the federal budget committed $38 million over five years to support young entrepreneurs through Futurpreneur Canada. Similar support to enable co-operation and promote the co-operative business model is required; it would be logical solution to promote inclusive economic growth in Canada and help address the succession crisis for small and medium enterprises in Canada, especially to preserve economic drivers in rural and remote communities. 

CMC and its network

CMC is a bilingual association that supports and unites 7000 small, medium, and large co-operatives and mutuals throughout Canada. Our members also include various provincial and territorial associations and sectoral federations that help encourage inter-cooperation. 

CMC has a significant national reach, and withh a long history through prior organizayions, the Canadian Co-operative Association and le Conseil canadien de la coopération et mutualité who merged to create CMC as a bilingual national association. 

CMC has experience as a reliable partner, including with the CDI that concluded in 2013, and recently, as an ongoing ecosystem partner for the Investment Readiness Program (IRP). Through the IRP, CMC has worked closely with Employment and Social Development Cabada (ESDC) and helped social purpose organizations navigate applications to promote their success. As is the case with current federal initiatives requiring partners and fund managers, CMC’s administrative and coordinating role would allow government to maximize program’s reach without further full-time employee requirements within the public services. 

Program Design

Priority applications would address one or more of the following categories: 

  • Agricultural Innovation and Food Security (promoting access to good-quality local food)
  • Climate Solutions (clean technology, green innovation, renewable energy)
  • Inclusive Economic Opportunities (enabling diverse communities to create economic growth)
  • Rural Economic Development (developing or growing co-operatives in rural and remote Canad)
  • Business Successions (through co-operatives, to preserve economic drivers and community resources amid aging/retiring business owner demographics)

Funds can be distributed according to agreed-upon priority groups and regions, and or proportionally across Canada in geographic manner that corresponds with seven regional economic development agencies’ territories. In doing so, successful applicants would be expected to work their local regional development agencies  and co-operative organizations -e.g a provincial association or provincial/national sectoral federation responsible for supporting co-operatives in a given sector – to access additional resources within their region and sector, such as events, training, networking, or advice.

A previous federal Co-operative Development Initiative from 2003-2013 focused on both “Innovative Co-operative Projects” and “Advisory Services” with funds eventually being allocated in nearly equal amounts between the two components in the final round of funding.

Similarly, a succesful CCBP would allow for eligible expenses in including:

  • Co-operative delveopment services (consulting, coaching, strategy), 
  • Education (training, workships, courses, for staff/volunteers/directors), 
  • Administrative supports (financial, legal, compliance), 
  • Research and insights (market research, data collection and analysis)