Saturday, April 14, 2012

Agriculture Canada cutbacks contradict federal focus on jobs and innovation

Elimination of successful public/private partnership will hurt co-operatives' ability to leverage funds at provincial, community levels

OTTAWA, April 13, 2012 /Canada NewsWire/ - Representatives of Canada's co-operative movement say cutbacks at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada run counter to the government's stated goals of creating jobs, promoting partnerships between the public and private sectors and fostering innovation. The announcement also calls into question the government's support for the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives, which Canada publicly endorsed when the UN resolution was adopted in 2009.

Canada's national co-operative associations have learned that the Co-operative Development Initiative (CDI), a program that has provided financial support for new and emerging co-operatives since 2003, will not be continued and that the Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat, the government office that administers programs related to co-operatives, will be significantly reduced in size.

The cuts come as the co-operative movement in Canada and around the world is celebrating the International Year of Co-operatives, which was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly to highlight the contribution co-operatives make to the economic and social development of communities. The 2009 UN resolution that proclaimed the International Year, which was supported by Canada, called on governments to take measures aimed at creating a supportive environment for the development of co-operatives.

"If the government is truly committed to creating jobs and fostering innovation, we can't understand why it would cut a program that cost very little - just over $4 million a year - and made a difference in hundreds of communities across the country," said Denyse Guy, executive director of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), one of two national associations that jointly administers the CDI program on behalf of the government. "This program was a partnership between the public and private sectors; it created jobs, fostered innovation, and gave co-operatives the ability to leverage additional funds at the provincial and community levels."

"The cuts in the CDI program and the Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat send a very disturbing signal for all Canadian co-operatives," said Brigitte Gagné, executive director of the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité, which co-manages the program with CCA. "We view this as a lack of recognition of the importance of co-operatives in job creation and economic growth in this country. We don`t understand this decision, in light of the program's success. We are now waiting for a concrete gesture on behalf of the Harper government to show its support for the co-operative sector."

Co-operative Development Initiative

The Co-operative Development Initiative is a unique federal program devoted to co-operatives. This program, whose objective is to stimulate the creation and expansion of co-operative enterprises, has supported the creation of more than 300 new community-based co-operatives since its inception in 2003. Over the past three years, CDI has provided advice and assistance to more than 1,600 groups interested in developing co-operatives and has aided the development of 700 existing co-operatives. In several provinces, CDI provides the only funding available for the development of co-operatives.

Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat

The Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat provides an essential link between the government and the co-operative sector. Staff reductions in the Secretariat will severely affect the dialogue between Canada's 9,000 co-operatives and the federal government. The budget cuts to the Secretariat will also have a direct impact on the promotion of the co-operative model and the coordination of federal government programs related to co-operatives.

Co-operatives in Canada

Canada's 9,000 co-operatives have more than 18 million members, 155,000 employees, annual revenues of more than $50 billion and assets of more than $370 billion. Canadian co-operatives are represented by two national associations, the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité (CCCM).

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