Co-operative Advocacy Update
Over the past few years, the Ontario Co-operative Association (OCA) has grown its relationships with Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs), government staff, committees, and members, resulting in a number of positive advocacy outcomes.
The Co-operative Landscape
Co-operatives are a different kind of business model, often considering people, planet and profit when measuring success. This, and the principles of co-operation, are what link the varying industries and segments of our sector together, whether its agriculture, housing, finance, daycare, worker co-ops, etc. Having such a diverse group of stakeholders all under one Act can make advocacy difficult, however, we collectively make a big impact and want our voices to be heard at Queen’s Park.
Our Sector by the Numbers
There are almost 1,200 co-operatives in Ontario, and they account for 19% of the Canadian co-operative sector, which is the second highest in the country after Quebec.
Co-operatives collectively own 76 billion dollars in assets and generate 7.8 billion in revenue, employing almost 20,000 people.
The true social and economic impact that co-operatives have on our communities and on the sustainability and growth of Ontario, go well beyond these numbers.
Voice of Co-operatives
At OCA, we strive to improve the regulatory and legislative environment for Ontario’s co-operatives so they can grow and thrive. Our policy and advocacy framework focuses on creating a level playing field for co-operatives, while driving awareness of co-operative innovation and increasing understanding of the benefits of co-operatives to the economy.
With the help of our membership, we have seen our advocacy work pay off. Here is a recent timeline of outcomes.
June 2019: After strong advocacy efforts, together with our members, we were successful in saving our Offering Statement process from moving to the Ontario Securities Commission. The Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (FSRA) was delegated authority by the Minister of Finance to oversee the capital raising requirements for co-operative corporations in Ontario.
December 2019: Bill 138 was introduced to modernize legislation within the Co-operative Corporations Act including Exemptions from Audit Provisions and the elimination of the 50% Rule. These updates had major impacts on both our large and small members and helped to bring the Co-operative Corporations Act (CCA) closer in line with other business Acts across both Ontario and Canada.
April 2020: Following the legislative review of the CCA that was completed in summer 2019, the government announced that full authority and responsibility for the Act would be transferred from the Minister of Finance to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services (now called the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery). This is a big win for co-operatives, as we have been advocating to be included in the same Ministry as all other businesses for a very long time.
May 2020: OCA was instrumental in ensuring that co-operatives had the same access as all other corporations when it came to the use of virtual meetings during the pandemic. We guided our members through the constantly changing COVID-19 temporary legislation updates that affected co-operative businesses, as well as offered our services, to ensure that our members had the tools and know-how to continue to run their Annual General Meetings virtually. Note: the temporary legislation allowing virtual meetings, if not in your bylaws, ends September 30, 2023.
October 2021: Service Ontario launched the Ontario Business Registry and in doing so, accidently removed all information about co-operatives from the Service Ontario website. OCA stepped in quickly to not only point out this disruption for co-operatives, but also act as consultants for almost six months on the update, reinstatement, and operation of the co-operative section of the Registry. Co-operatives can now file and find their corporation information online the same way any other business would. However, more service transactions need to be available to co-operatives, and we continue to work with Service Ontario on this.
November 2022: OCA was invited by the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery to consult on proposed legislative and regulatory amendments that would enhance virtual processes for certain types of corporations on a permanent basis. Our continued advocacy and relationship-building efforts made sure that co-operative corporations were considered during this consultation. Proposed changes include not only making the temporary legislation of virtual meetings permanent, but also to update both legislation and regulations around electronic communication and record keeping, bringing our legislation in line with our practices in 2023 (with the use of email, cloud storage etc.).
February 2023: OCA submitted a pre-budget submission to the Ministry of Finance, where we presented regulatory changes still needed to the Offering Statement Limit Exemptions, and also highlighted co-operative solutions to housing, renewable energy, and co-operative education.
Continued Advocacy Focus
All of these positive outcomes point to a growing awareness and understanding of co-operatives within the government. We continue to advocate for an increase in offering statement limits that have not been reviewed since 1995, as the capital needed to start or sustain a business in 2023 is vastly different than it was in 1995. We are asking for a fivefold increase to the exemption limits, which means an increase in the exemption cap on individual member purchased securities of $1,000 per year, or $10,000 total to $5,000 per year, and $50,000 in total. It also means an increase of total securities issued to members from an exemption cap of $200,000 to a cap of $1,000,000, and an increase in the cap of the number of security holders for an exemption from 25 to 50. These are fairly simple regulation changes that need to happen, and not legislation.
Advocacy Tools & Resources
Over the years, OCA has developed a number of tools and resources to help support our members in both provincial co-op advocacy, and to lobby on behalf of their own co-operative business and sector. Access our current tools and resources here.