Why the New Co-op Act is Worth the Zillion Hours We Spent On It
We can be a co-operative economy that puts people, the planet, and sustainable economic development at the forefront.
Okay, picture this: you’re establishing an exciting, innovative new business with a group of other really cool people. Now think about all the amazing technology out there that will help you come together to discuss ideas and make decisions; think about how it will keep your business nimble and competitive.
You might use Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, even a conference call or one of the kazillion other apps out there, but it doesn’t matter, one way or another you’ll be able to quickly meet online or by phone to vote on issues you need to address - an amazing opportunity that requires quick action or a potential crisis that needs to be nipped in the bud.
Okay, now imagine NOT being able to use ANY of that technology to vote on those decisions - not even the telephone. Crazy? Impossible? Ridiculous?
Well, my friends, until very recently that was the reality of co-ops in New Brunswick. Due to our antiquated provincial legislation, co-ops have not been allowed to use any online means of voting, including the telephone.
The Act Is No Longer Blocking Progress
Why you ask? The simple answer is that the NB Co-op Act was last amended in 1976 and has never once (until this summer) been updated. Many of you reading this weren’t even born in 1976 so let me enlighten you a bit on what it was like back then.
There was no such thing as the internet or personal computers. Telephones operated on “party lines” where as many as a dozen others could listen in on your conversations. “CB radios” were considered the cutting-edge technology of the day and the other Trudeau was Prime Minister.
Suffice it to say, times were very different back in 1976 for co-ops and maybe the legislation worked then. Imagine how frustrating it has been for us at the Co-operative Enterprise Council to explain to millennials (who tend to love the co-op’s shared-ownership model) that, if they incorporate as a co-op in NB, they won’t be able to use everyday technologies to vote and must pull people together for in-person meetings?
“Say what?!” followed by “you’ve got to be kidding!” or “why would New Brunswick have a Co-op Act designed for a world that no longer exists?!” has been the typical response.
And rightfully so. It’s a clash of the global community they are growing up in and simply does not compute.
The Most Current Co-op Legislation in Canada
So I’m sure you can understand just how thrilled I am to be able to tell you that after ten years of pushing, cajoling, lobbying, begging and negotiating with three - count em, 3 - successive provincial governments, New Brunswick now has a brand new Co-operative Associations Act!
It was designed by the co-op sector for the co-op sector and is now the most up-to-date provincial co-op legislation in the entire country.
The example of not being able to vote electronically was just one of the many barriers of the old Act that have now been changed and there are many other aspects of the new legislation that will contribute to the growth and development of the co-op sector.
Easier to Start Co-ops That Are Ready for Investment
It is now easier to form all manner of co-ops - worker co-ops, housing co-ops, multi-stakeholder co-ops - and we have the flexibility to establish different levels of membership and shareholder structures that will help co-ops attract investors and raise capital.
But what really gets me excited is how this new Act raises the bar on what is possible for co-ops as it creates a range of opportunities for innovation, building local economies, and addressing a myriad of social, environmental and cultural issues.
I mean, consider what co-ops have been able to achieve in New Brunswick despite the crippling restrictions of its legislation; Co-ops have still generated over $1 Billion in revenues each year and directly employ more than 7500 New Brunswickers.
They have provided critical services and products that would otherwise be unavailable, especially in rural communities, and they frequently employ or support people who face barriers to the labour force. They operate in virtually every sector of our economy from local food and farming to forestry, fishing, housing, tourism, health care, construction, education, transportation and many others.
If you need any proof of their resiliency, you can check out the research that has consistently shown that co-ops grow at three times (3x) the rate of the economy in general, create five times (5x) as many jobs as conventional companies, and last twice (2x) as long.
So when you think about how all of this has been accomplished under restrictive and antiquated legislation, imagine how much more impact co-ops will have in the future! Particularly, led by a generation of millennials who are inspired by the idea of helping build a better world through collective action and by a growing population of people who have an inherent respect for social, environmental, and cultural priorities.
So folks, let's make this happen together. Let’s build New Brunswick into a co-operative economy that puts people, the planet, and sustainable economic development at the forefront. The sky really is the limit - let’s reach for it!
Wendy Keats is the Executive Director and founding member of CECNB and has been involved in co-op and community economic development for nearly 40 years.