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Co-ops want a piece of stimulus budget

The Canadian Co-operative Association is looking for some love in tomorrow's stimulus budget.

“One of the things people have been talking about is the importance of stimulating not just big but small businesses,” said Donna Balkan, the association’s communications manager.

“And, like most small business, it’s difficult for co-operatives to get off the ground.”

The association issued a statement last week calling for renewed funding of the Co-operative Development Initiative (CDI). The program, which provides start-up funding for new cooperatives, has been funded by the federal government for the past six years. In March, its $4 million per year budget will expire.

A recession is a time to support co-operative models, said Peter Hall, professor of urban studies at Simon Fraser university -- but that support doesn’t have to come in the from of start-up funding.

“The other side is in the delivery,” said Hall. “How can we make sure that these very locally controlled organizations get to play a role in spending some of that money?”

“There’s no reason why the federal budget couldn’t send a very clear signal to ministries about how they want to see that money spent.”

The co-op movement is one that largely developed as a result of hard times. Though co-ops have existed in Canada since the early 1900s, the Great Depression was a catalyst for them, especially in the agriculture sector. While downturns might be the impetus for people to band together and pool resources, Hall said he’s not certain that co-ops can weather recessions better or worse than any other business.

“I could see how it could go either way, and that’s where the diversity of co-ops is an important thing to keep in mind…they can face challenges of being priced out.”

According to Balkan, the co-op sector in Canada is worth $275 billion and employs approximately 150,000 people.

Colleen Kimmett is a writer for The Tyee.

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