Quiet Strength
July-August 2012

The Harper government decided to slash federal support for cooperatives. The staff at his Rural Secretariat, for which policies and programs are intended to improve the quality of life of rural communities, will be reduced from 92 employees to 15. Furthermore, the only federal program dedicated to cooperatives, the Co-operative Development Initiative, will not be renewed. Ironically, this announcement comes at the same time as cooperatives are being celebrated all over the world in this International Year of Cooperatives.

Hence, our Canadian government is withdrawing its support of cooperative development. This is somewhat surprising. If there is one model that costs the government very little, it is undoubtedly the cooperative formula: it encourages people to contribute their fair share, to take charge of their input, and to become accountable for their own needs. Even better, we now know that cooperatives are the most sustainable and the most responsible of all private enterprises.

In fact, thanks to investigations conducted in 1999 and in 2008 by the Quebec ministry of Economic Development, Innovation and Export Trade, we know that cooperatives last twice as long as all other types of businesses. Furthermore, they top Corporate Knights' list of best corporate citizens each year. All of this is now part of the public domain.

However, it seems that some politicians out there don't read much. Obviously, they have yet to understand how cooperatives contribute to the development of an economy that is not only strong, but healthy and profitable for all. Nonetheless, cooperators will stand tall and united because there are many of us and we are persistent. In fact, cooperatives are clearly on the radar screen.

Besides being the International Year of Cooperatives, which has the advantage of attracting the attention of mass media, there are also several scientists taking a new look at the whole cooperative field. Apparently, cooperative behaviour has become an inescapable subject. According to the editors of Science magazine, it ranks among the 25 top questions being explored by scientists today. Social sciences, biology, economics and philosophy: all the attention is on cooperation, behaviour as old as the world itself, which increasingly appears to be the natural consequence of adaptive evolution.

We tend to immediately think of Man who had to cooperate to survive and develop in an often hostile environment. But Man does not have exclusivity on cooperative behaviour. There are numerous examples that are increasingly well documented. In fact, insects, birds and monkeys have many cooperators within their species! In an article published last April, primatologist Frans de Waal goes even further by stating that, according to his most recent work, primates display conduct related to fairness and justice. That's pretty incredible.

There's no doubt that cooperation is at the centre of evolution and the preservation of many species. We, as representatives of the human species and having invented economics, believe that a cooperative is a means of carrying out a transaction that is perfectly adapted to our deeper nature. It allows us to accomplish our economic activities and, in doing so, to satisfy our greater existential aspirations: to participate and to be respected. This is what it really means to cooperate. But this is something that the Canadian government has yet to understand.

Governments come and go, but cooperatives last, thank goodness!


Colette Lebel, agr.
Director Cooperative Affairs
and Board Secretary Assistant
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: 514 850-2567


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