In association with the Institut de recherche et d’éducation pour les coopératives et les mutuelles de l’Université de Sherbrooke (IRECUS) and the International Centre for Co-operative Management of Saint Mary’s University, CMC is proud to present the report which synthesizes the findings regarding the impact of COVID-19 on Canadian co-operatives and mutuals. The report outlines their response during its first 18 months of the pandemic and how it affected them.

This research was segmented in four distinct phases:

  • The first phase was a literature review on how co-operatives and mutuals have handled crises in the past.
  • The second was a media coverage review to identify initiatives taken co-operatives and mutuals to support their communities, their members as well as their employees.
  • The third section was an analysis of a national survey sent to Canadian co-operatives and mutuals. Researchers received over 190 responses, which helped shape the report’s data in order to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected them early on. These results have already been released and you can find the blog post summarizing the survey results, the infographic and the full report on the CMC website.

We have now arrived at the fourth phase – a synthesis of the results collected through the 3 previous phases.

Co-operatives and Mutuals Show Stability in the Face of COVID-19

Thanks to some of key structural features, the co-operative and mutualist model has contributed to its resilience during the first 18-months of the pandemic (Novkovic & Miner, 2015; Miner & Novkovic, 2020). Co-operatives and mutuals are oriented towards long-term objectives (Ouchene, 2015), are close to their community and their members, with an ability to mobilize them when needed (Sánchez-Bajo & Roelants, 2011; Eum, 2012).

Solidarity: An Asset for a Resilient Enterprise

Throughout everything, solidarity remains an important value for the co-operative and mutual sector. During the pandemic, co-operatives and mutuals from various sectors and sizes have offered donations, products and services as well as staff time to different stakeholders in order to support their communities and their members.

For example, Canadian financial co-operatives were quick to offer financial relief to their members and customers, with most of them announcing financial relief measures in the early months of the pandemic.

Similarly, housing co-operatives delayed the payment for housing charges and did not increase rent among in order to alleviate their members’ financial stress.

Employers also implemented measures to ensure the safety and retention of employees. Co-operatives and mutuals adopted policies such as hazard pay and financial assistance for those who had been terminated or unable to work due to COVID-19. Training and virtual conferences were also part of the new practices adopted by cooperatives and mutuals, both for their employees and for their members.

The Support of Governments and Co-operative Networks Played a Key Role

Regardless of their structures features that enable resiliency, it is generally not enough to survive such a crisis. Networks, government policies or financial support were all factors that strengthened co-operatives and mutuals throughout the pandemic.

In fact, 67% of survey respondents said they received financial support from at least one level of government. Provincially, the percentage of respondents who said they had used government programs was similar in all regions of Canada, except for Quebec and the Prairies. In Quebec, nearly 9 out of 10 respondents (87%) said they had used government funding, whereas in the Prairies it dropped to only 42%.

Co-operatives and mutuals not only received support from the government, but also from co-operative federations and associations. Moreover, they stated that their relationship with these organizations helped them better weather the pandemic through continuous information, support for digital conversion and acting as an intermediary between the government and the co-operative and mutualist sector.

Furthermore, study results confirm that co-operative federations and associations played an important role during the pandemic, even if they were not called upon directly. Different types of support related to the pandemic were offered (continuous information sharing, assistance on applying for government programs, support for digital conversion, etc.). In some cases, help took the form of assigning or recruiting staff dedicated to these tasks. Additionally, many of these associations and federations played the role of intermediate between various levels of government and the co-operative and mutualist movement, ensuring that they are not forgotten in any pandemic related policy decisions.


When faced with a crisis, co-operatives and mutuals prioritize the continuity of their activities and their long-term viability and strive to respond and adapt to the needs of their members. They also recognize the importance of their employees, their well-being and their safety. This prioritization may explain why very few co-operatives and mutuals lost members and/or staff during the first 18 months of the pandemic.

However, co-operatives and mutuals could not have survived this particular crisis alone. As stated above, co-operative federations and associations as well as various levels governments have been of great financial assistance to the sector.

To conclude, further research will be needed to fully understand the medium and the long-term effect of the pandemic on Canadian cooperatives and mutuals. Only then will researchers know how much the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic affected the sector and how to better prepare should anything similar happen again.

Interested in learning more? Make sure to check out the complete report here. For a quick visual overview, check out our newest infographic!