Mortimore: Last call for a co-op revolution

CORRECTED VERSION: Peninsula Co-op has no Langford representative though it does have a representative from View Royal and Metchosin

Editor’s note: This column has been corrected of errors in the original version that were pointed out after publication of the June 13 print edition of the Goldstream News Gazette. As well, it should be noted the opinion’s expressed are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

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Peninsula Co-op is a consumer co-operative. Its counterpart is a producer co-operative owned by its workers. The two kinds of co-ops are linked together in Mondragon Co-operative Corporation, a global enterprise employing 84,000 people, headquartered in the Basque region of Spain, democratically managed on the principle of one person, one vote, income divided between payout to members and investment for community benefit.

United Steelworkers’ Union and Mondragon have signed an agreement which can lead to co-op purchase and market reorientation of shareholder-owned enterprises – steel mills in the U.S. rust belt, maybe sawmills, paper mills, solar, wind-power, geothermal and prefab building manufacture on Vancouver Island.

On the Island, the Peninsula Co-op has no Langford representative on its board, although thousands of people are members who buy gas at Co-op stations in Langford.

(Editor’s note: The West Shore is, however, represented on the Co-op’s board of directors by Ron Gaudet of View Royal and Mel Hernblad of Metchosin. In the original version of this column, which appears in the Wednesday, June 13 edition of the Gazette, it was erroneously stated that the Co-op’s board did not have any West Shore representation. We apologize for that error.)

Ron MacIsaac, lawyer, social activist, and inheritor of a family co-op tradition, hopes to become Langford’s representative. He may be a long shot – he has never made a formal alliance with the reform group, although his social-activist record shows that he is a  team player – but the West Shore could gain solid benefits if he wins.

His creative turn of mind would favour pathfinder projects. For example, Demand-Responsive Transit (DRT) research. Would residents of condominiums and mobile-home parks sign on to dial-a-bus programs at a greatly-reduced fare, linking to main-line routes and keeping feeder buses running full?

Would big-box stores contribute toward nearby low-rental housing for their workers? This would stabilize their labour force and reduce costly turnover. MacIsaac’s creative mind would make him a good advocate for co-op involvement.

June 13, the day this column appears, is the last day Co-op members can obtain electors’ packages; the last day they can vote for reform candidates who seek to override the co-op’s old guard and serve notice that the co-op has grown beyond its Central Saanich starting-point. Arguably it now could become a game-changing regional economic force.

The conflict between progressives and conservatives began with an attempt by the co-op’s power-group to build a new supermarket on a tract of what arguably could still be used as fertile farmland (though it is not located in the ALR), contrary to CRD growth strategy, and manipulate the decision by the three per cent of the 58,000 members who vote in elections.

This ecological quarrel morphed into a wider struggle over policies. Shrewd management by the conservatives has made the co-op a financial powerhouse, but the ideals of member control and community benefit have been blurred.

My first thought was to vote for two of the three reform candidates, Glenn Davidson and Jack Thornburgh, plus Ron MacIsaac. I remained doubtful about reform candidate Roger Hart, because the nominating committee endorsed him. I wish Hart well, but I have never met an NDP candidate who would accept Conservative endorsements.

Now I am leaning toward the idea of plumping for MacIsaac and leaving all the other spaces blank. If a few thousand people plumped, it would give Langford a better chance of gaining a representative on the co-op’s board.

– G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer and regular columnist with the Gazette.

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