Did you know that over a third of all the maple syrup consumed in the world is marketed by cooperatives in Quebec? The Canadian province is a hotspot for cooperatives, with a remarkably developed cooperative sector, both in terms of numbers and diversity. Cooperatives play leading roles in industries like financial services, insurance, agriculture, food, housing, forestry, funerals and schools. As well as a supportive provincial government, the cooperative sector in Quebec has also benefitted from a development strategy underpinned by strong federations and alliances and regional development cooperatives, like the Coopérative de Développement Régional de Montréal-Laval (CDRML).

Quebec is home to 3,300 cooperatives and mutuals, which account for 8.8 million members (70% of the population), a total revenue of C$25.6 billion, 92,000 jobs and C$166 billion of assets. Cooperatives have a higher survival rate than traditional businesses, persist over time (16 non-financial cooperatives are over 75 years old) and create more jobs than other types of businesses. This strong sector is greatly supported by the federation of 11 regional development cooperatives.

Quebec’s regional development cooperatives are associations of cooperatives, first set up in 1985 to provide assistance to new cooperatives throughout Quebec’s 17 regions. The CDRML was created in 1986 by a group of university professors at the Montreal school of Hautes Études Commerciales. Its mission is to promote the cooperative model, provide support to entrepreneurs towards setting up and consolidating their cooperative and foster relationships with other cooperatives, and it currently unites over 150 cooperatives and partners in the Montreal and Laval regions.

The CDRML is financed mainly through a partnership with the Ministry of Finance and the Economy, receiving funding based on the number of cooperatives and jobs created. The cooperative has to generate revenue for the CDR to be entitled to its funding, so the cooperative project must be a viable business, leading the CDRML to launch new and innovative models of cooperatives, like Shareholding Workers Cooperatives, created in 1994.

This model enables businesses owners to gain new financing through the sale of blocks of shares to the cooperative. Workers participate directly in their company’s development, fostering a more democratic management approach. The workers are members of the cooperative, but it is the cooperative who owns the shares, not the workers. This model is particularly effective in cases where owners are looking to transfer ownership, or retain staff for competitive reasons.

Another model created by the CDRML is the Solidarity Cooperative. Solidarity Cooperatives are established to serve diverse categories of members within one cooperative, as opposed to traditional cooperatives where members originate from homogenous groups. This model represents a valuable solution for groups who wish to take root in their own local communities and share a common goal.

A third model launched by the CDRML is the Shared Enterprise Cooperative. Initially designed as a medium geared towards immigrant women, this multi-services cooperative can be used for all types of entrepreneurs. The cooperative provides them with the management services they need to run a business, as well as a salary. Entrepreneurs can benefit from having an effective network at their disposal and can focus on building their business rather than working on legal obligations, accounting and so on.

The CDRML offers a comprehensive consulting service for all types of cooperatives, accompanying entrepreneurs through the steps of planning, legal constitution, training and operational activities. In 2012 it launched a special campaign with several other partners for the International Year of Cooperatives. JeCoop (www.jecoop.com) aims to promote the cooperative model, increasing visibility and raising awareness of the significant role cooperatives play in the Quebec community.