February 1, 2008 - News

Co-ops help tackle big problems
Carol Hunter is too honest to pretend the sky is about to fall. She is bracing for a year of heavy clouds and stunted growth. Hunter is executive director of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA), the national organization representing the country's 10,000 co-ops, credit unions and caisses populaires. Five years ago, the association received $5 million from the federal government to assist local groups wishing to start new co-ops or strengthen existing ones. Ottawa backed that up with a $10 million fund, administered by its own Co-operatives Secretariat, to support innovative projects. The initiative ends next month. Although it has helped create 135 new co-ops and bolster 1,000 emerging ones, its future is uncertain. The federal Conservatives aren't likely to kill it. The co-op movement has too many adherents in Alberta. What Hunter expects is a stand-pat, one-year extension. While that certainly would be better than nothing, it would deny CCA's members the opportunity to tackle some of the big problems facing the nation: the shortage of affordable housing, the demand for renewable energy, the gaps in the health-care system, the underemployment of immigrants, the depopulation of rural Canada and the grim conditions in many aboriginal communities.