‘A Silent Transformation’: Moving away from a capitalist economy

Film screening gives an inside look into co-operative organizations across Canada

Mara Ireta Gordon/Argosy

Last Tuesday, the Co-operative Enterprise Council of New Brunswick (CECNB), along with the Cross-Cultural Youth Project, came to Mount Allison to present a free screening of A Silent Transformation, a documentary focused on co-operative companies in Ontario and how they are impacting the world economically and socially. The screening was open to the public and followed by a discussion.

“We have a mandate to build a social economy and sustainable communities through the co-operative and social enterprise movement,” said Wendy Keiths, the executive director of CECNB.

Co-operatives, or co-ops, are enterprises that are owned and controlled by their own members to realize their common social, economic and cultural needs. Co-operatives are not owned by shareholders, which gives them the power to stay in the communities that they were established in. Profits are typically invested back into the enterprise.

CECNB is a community economic development agency that provides services specifically to co-ops and social enterprises. They advocate to the government on issues that concern co-ops, help to increase the public profile of N.B. co-ops and provide resources on bylaws and policies; board development; facilitation; and access to financing, capital and investment.

There are over 700 co-ops and social enterprises in New Brunswick, operating in forestry, agriculture, construction, housing and technology. Co-ops in New Brunswick make around $2 billion annually, and provide approximately 16,000 full-time jobs.

“Co-operatives are a global force [that have] been building our economy in New Brunswick for almost 200 years now,” said Keiths. She also mentioned that the oldest ongoing co-operative in the world, which was established by a group of farmers, is located in Sussex, N.B.

Co-ops also play a huge role in building local economies in rural areas, and provide opportunities to minority populations such as Indigenous peoples and immigrants. According to CECNB’s website, almost half of the co-ops in New Brunswick are employed by marginalized groups.

The Cross-Cultural Youth Project is a federally-funded CECNB initiative that works with youth aged 15 to 30 in order to strengthen communities,  foster cultural awareness and build collaborative relationships between First Nations, Francophone and Anglophone communities. They work with CECNB by engaging young people in co-operatives.

“We engage youth in civic service through four different avenues,” explained Gregory Burton, who works with the Cross-Cultural Youth Project. “One is by volunteer placements, one is through mentorship, one is through group activities that [youth] do together that we develop for them or that we accompany them to, and the last one is through their own creative projects.”

The film A Silent Transformation was made by young co-operatives who wanted to raise awareness about the co-operative movement in Ontario. The documentary focused on individuals who worked in co-ops discussing how they are important to the future of our economy.

“When I watch things like this it just reinforces for me the need for a different way, a different kind of economy,” said Keiths after the documentary was over.

Burton spoke about the economic challenges many young people are facing when going into the workplace. “My experience with co-operatives, living in Montreal with people my age in [their] 20s and early 30s, was still that people were making co-operatives for necessity,” he said. “There were various necessities, financial necessity being one of them. Jobs are scarcer, finding work in your field is more difficult, so people have less money and they’re looking to co-operatives to try to bridge some of those gaps.”

“I think co-ops help build sustainable communities,” said Mackenzie Gordon, a fourth-year Mt. A student who attended the screening. “Having worked in communities in Ontario, I’ve seen the benefit of programs like this.”

“It becomes a need at a certain point to feel as though you’re participating in [the] kind of economy you can believe in,” said Burton. “People for that reason are supporting co-ops.”

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