Update from the All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives, compliments of Honourable Mauril Bélanger, M.P. for Ottawa—Vanier

Dear Friends,

 

The All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives held its third meeting on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014. In earlier messages, I outlined the proceedings of its inaugural meeting on March 25th and second meeting on May 7th.

 I chaired the third meeting and welcomed the following invited guests: Nicholas Gazzard, Executive Director, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; Janice Lafontaine, Member & President, Eileen Tallman Housing Co-operative in Nepean; Krystyl Randall, Member, Wingale Housing Co-operative in Ottawa; Réjean Laflamme, Federation of Funeral Co-operatives of Québec; Mark Goldblatt, President, Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa; and Denyse Guy, Executive Director, Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada.  Nine MPs attended, from all three recognized parties represented in the House of Commons.

 The guests representing housing co-operatives made presentations to the caucus regarding the end of federal operating agreements and how this will affect co-ops and their members, particularly those on low incomes many of whom may be forced out of their current housing.  Co-ops are looking for income transfer programs and are asking the federal government to commit to a dedicated cost-sharing program with the provinces.  If no new agreement can be reached, some housing co-ops will face budget deficits or they will have to move away from affordable social housing. Some 50,000 people in current housing co-ops could be affected by this, but the impact of people leaving co-ops could well extend into other social housing and affect as many as 200,000 households in total. Reducing federal support for affordable housing for the most vulnerable Canadians in definitely not the way to go. The instability in people’s lives that comes from homelessness has a tremendous cost on the rest of society. It makes it harder to rejoin the labour force, and causes declines in physical and mental health. For taxpayers, the costs of emergency services and shelters for the homeless are more expensive than helping them maintain a decent place to live.

 To a question about the amount of financial support being sought, Nicholas Gazzard estimated that the share for co-ops under current agreements is $100 million. Co-op housing is looking for some sort of cost sharing to cover this amount, since the subsidy that is being terminated was a geared-to-income program. No additional financing (e.g. for capital costs or upgrading of social housing) is being sought – just assistance to continue rental subsidies. Janice Lafontaine pointed out that housing co-ops are non-profit and that hers has raised only a small internal subsidy to help its members that cannot possibly replace the federal subsidy.

 The guests representing funeral co-operatives highlighted the diversity and the socio-environmental commitment that they have displayed, as well as the assistance they provide to other co-operatives. They have faced some issues around capitalization as credit unions and banks (including BDC, the Business Development Bank of Canada) have demanded 100% guarantees on loans. They have sought creative ways to find capital but what is needed is dedicated funding for start-up co-ops.

 To a question about how the federal government is responding to this problem, Mark Goldblatt and Réjean Laflamme noted that they had worked in the past with the Co-operative Development Initiative, the BDC and the Fond Essor to get capital. Unfortunatelty, Industry Canada has only two staff dedicated to the co-operative sector. As for the funeral co-operative movement, they are discussing the idea of building a national fund.

 In conclusion, some parliamentarians thought that what was being asked at the moment seemed reasonable but that co-ops are one sector of many approaching government for financial assistance. They would do well to market themselves better and develop more effective messaging.

 As Parliament has now adjourned for the summer, our plan is to organize three meetings of the All-Party Caucus on Co-operatives in the fall. As usual, I will keep you informed of my other co-op related activities.

 Mauril

Honourable Mauril Bélanger, M.P. for Ottawa—Vanier

Liberal Advocate for Co-operatives

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