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Perspective from the Board Chair of the Co-operators

By John Harvie

On October 25th and 26th, I had the opportunity to attend the CWCF annual conference and
AGM. I attended along with Alexandra Wilson and Wendy Carruthers. Also attending in their
CWCF positions were The Co-operators Board members, Hazel Corcoran, Reba Plummer, and Jessica Provencher. We were recognized as regular partners in many areas and as sponsors of this conference. The Co-
operators got plenty of notice and appreciation.

I will begin with the AGM. The CWCF has just embarked on an ambitious new 4 year strategic
plan. Both the President/Chair Reba Plummer, and the Executive Director Hazel Corcoran, in
their reports to the assembly, made reference to the hard work and dedication of Board and
staff that went into the creation of this plan. Quote, “our plan calls for CWCF to take some risks,
negotiate new partnerships, and find new sources of funding.” Quote, “The plan maps out paths
to strengthen worker coops and scale up the worker coop movement.” Throughout the
conference there were frequent references to equality, democracy, sustainability and building
resilient communities.

The CWCF has just under 40 worker Co-op members, 3 Quebec region Federation members
and several developer and associate members. The diversity in these Co-ops made for a lively
and very interesting meeting. There were many, too many, initiatives to report on here, but I
want to draw attention to one item in particular which is the CWCF’s involvement in the CCIF
(Canadian Cooperative Investment Fund).

The CWCF was one of the first Coop organizations in Canada to pledge and commit funding to
the CCIF. The CWCF has remained involved in the CCIF ever since by way of promoting the
concept, maintaining their original pledge of $250,000, advancing funds to the CCIF as needed
and occupying a Board seat all these years. I was a guest attendee at the CWCF AGM in
Ancaster Ontario about 10 years ago when the delegates made this bold move to commit a
significant portion of their savings to the CCIF. I was proud of them then and I am proud of them
now.

The Financial Report began with a clean audit opinion from the auditing firm Bishop and Co.
Total revenues came in at $405,863 compared to prior year $377,756. The Co-operators loyalty
dividend was approximately $50,000. Expenses were $392,414 compared to prior year
$340,974. There was one disappointment in the statement which was a member loan write
down of $43,000 which left them with a small loss for the year compared to a small savings prior
year. Total assets and liabilities increased from approx. 3 million on 2018 to approx. 4 million in
2019.

The conference itself was a busy and fascinating agenda of a variety of topics and
presentations. The morning opened with 3 presentations on building resilient communities and
asking the question how worker co-ops can help address climate change. This opening
presentation identified a pitfall that with the best of intentions organizations often end up with their sustainability plans in silos rather than embedded throughout. One of the three presentations
was from Open Sky Cooperative, a recipient of The Co-operators CED funding in the past, and I
believe a recipient chosen to be featured in a co-op video 5 years ago. There was also a First
Nations presentation as part of this topic. These presentations led to a table group discussion
on “what might your co-op do to ensure resilient communities?” These are not easy topics but
the mood of the room throughout the conference was inclusive, friendly and encouraging.

The diversity of topics and presenters kept rolling along for the entire conference. They have a
process called Co-op Ignite Sessions where member worker co-ops do short and fast
presentations on their organizations. For example, we saw an Ignite presentation from a co-op
in Vancouver called Shift Delivery Co-op which is basically a bicycle delivery service. Fascinating
really, these people pulling rather large trailers around behind their bikes. This was followed by
another Ignite presentation from the North Nova Forestry Co-op and a third presentation from
another forestry co-op called EcoSystem Collective with a focus on climate repair /the Acadian
forest and carbon storehouses.

Lunch was followed by two workshops, one on “Building your Co-op’s Financial Viability,” and the
other, which we attended, on a spiral learning process which is basically the “what, so what and
now what process” which we have used frequently at The Co-operators planning sessions. It
was fun and helpful as we kind of play acted real life problems with debating and coaching as
part of the process.

Our own Wendy Carruthers did a presentation to the whole conference on The Co-operators
approach to Environmental Sustainability. I had the pleasure of introducing Wendy and her
topic.

Meals were provided throughout at the Tatamagouche Learning Centre. Did I mention that the
conference was held in Tatamagouche Nova Scotia? Tatamagouche is off the beaten trail. It is
sort of in the category of “you can’t get there from here.” A charming funky little town. The learning
centre has been there forever and served the purpose well.

The evening was a mix and mingle networking party with a local band called the North Shore
Pickers. They were quite good. One of their members looked like Willie Nelson.

The next day began with a long presentation on The Social and Solidarity Economy and Worker
Coops. This is a rather complex topic which I think might be well-suited for a future Board educational
topic.

This was followed by more Coop Ignite sessions, featuring Living Workplace Democracy, DSW Coop,
Open Sky Coop, and Just Us Coffee Roasters.

The Conference wrapped up at noon on Saturday the 26th. They closed with typical Q&A, but
they also have a neat process where two participants at the conference had been tagged as
“listeners” at the beginning of the conference. Everyone knew there were listeners in the room
but no one knew who they were. At the end, these two people stood up and gave an informal
report on their impressions and anything else they wanted to say. It was really quite neat.

Our Reba did a masterful job of chairing this eclectic, diverse room full of interesting people. I
would recommend to any of The Co-operators Board members who have the opportunity to
attend this conference in the future to do so. It gets to the Regional and Member Organization
diversity that The Co-operators Board is so proud of.

On Behalf of Alexandra and myself, thank you to The Co-operators for making this possible.