There are nearly 3,300 cooperatives and mutuals in Quebec and more than 11 million members and customers. Their economic weight represents 13.5% of Quebec’s gross domestic product (GDP) and they employ 125,000 people. While they share similar principles and values, their way of operating differs according to the needs of their members. Overview.
Food, housing, books, funeral services, cable television, etc., consumer co-ops provide goods and services to their members for personal use. True bulwarks against inflation, the 1532 co-ops of this type make sure to offer competitive prices, because they do not seek profit at all costs. “There are some everywhere in Quebec, but it is a strong model in the regions because it allows local services to be maintained. We can think, for example, of a village grocery store or a hardware store,” explains Marie-Josée Paquette, director general of the Conseil québécois de la coopération et de la mutualité. Daniel P. Brunette, of Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, adds that they, like other companies, must face the challenge of the workforce. Co-ops have also been affected by vagaries of the supply chain.
From translation to engineering, through forestry, architecture, microbreweries, paramedics, etc., there are many employment sectors where workers have chosen to become both boss and employee. . “Often, it is employees who will take over a business to avoid its closure. It’s a way to keep the know-how. It’s a great solution when you know that tens of thousands of companies have no buyers, ”says Marie-Josée Paquette. The strength of 272 co-ops is also their biggest challenge since it’s not always easy to wear both hats. “Management is not always easy because the decision-making structure is democratic,” adds the director. “Another challenge: buying a business requires significant capital, and even if several people are involved in the project, it’s not easy,” notes Daniel P. Brunette. In addition, collective entrepreneurship is often a good opportunity for newcomers, underline the two experts.
The model is popular because of its flexibility, but it has existed in Quebec since 1997. There are 607 in the province and they are made up of different categories of members such as workers, users and support members. The latter are those who support the cooperative project because of its social utility, but who do not necessarily use the services offered. “It can be a home help cooperative made up of users, workers and the municipality, for example,” explains Marie-Josée Paquette. The challenge is that the objectives may be different depending on the type of membership status in the organization.
Contrary to what its name suggests, it is not just about agricultural producers. This category concerns both natural and legal persons (artists, fishermen, transport, buildings, etc.) who come together to share the goods and services necessary for the exercise of their profession or the operation of their business. “The goal is the extension of the individual enterprise. We can think of joint marketing such as maple syrup with the Coop Citadelle, or even processing such as Agropur. There is also export, marketing, supply chain, management, etc. says Marie-Josée Paquette. Of course, it is not always easy to show solidarity, as business decisions can have an individual impact on the companies that are members. “Sometimes we witness sacrifices for the greater good. There are 253 co-ops that have this model and I call them the people’s SMEs, ”says Daniel P. Brunette.