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My book, The Co-op Revolution (Caitlin Press), talks about Roger Inman, CCEC and 1970's co-ops.  It is an account of my time with the co-op movement in Vancouver’s activist years of the 1970s. I was a founder and member of CRS Workers’ Co-op, an organization that was owned and managed by us. We started four projects in Vancouver, all to do with food production and distribution: a cannery that preserved BC fruit in honey, a beekeeping co-op, a bakery and a food wholesaler. As well, we helped other small food co-ops get started.

Sometime in the autumn of 1975 Michael Goldstein showed up at the Pandora Street office of CRS Workers’ Co-op with a sheaf of documents in hand. We knew that the co-op movement possessed its own form of financial institution founded by the people, for the people’s well-being. So when Michael told our group that he and others were trying to organize just such a credit union to be called CCEC, we were happy to sign up. Several of us signed on a charter document that night and some of us expressed interest on serving on the new credit union’s committees when it received its charter in 1976. Right on!—as we said in those days. This was what co-operatives needed—access to funds that were not governed by the big business of Canada's banks or subject to the day’s political whims. The credit union movement would be a big boon to women in business as well, recognizing their abilities to manage a loan without requiring a man at the helm.

From The Co-op Revolution: “Most of us opened our personal share/saving accounts at CCEC when it moved to its first real office at 205 E. 6th Avenue. I was member number 32 and my deposit card reports that on March 4, 1976, I deposited $4 to open my account, after which the deposits and withdrawals continued sporadically until 1981. That first transaction was initialed by K, which probably stood for Katherine Ruffen, the first manager.

The best thing about this credit union was its personal service in the days before ATM machines. If I had neglected to withdraw cash on a Friday for the weekend’s activities, I could call Katherine at work and tell her I was on my way. “Please don’t leave until I get there,” I would say, and I would arrive minutes before closing time.  It’s doubtful whether any bank or credit union today would be concerned about my lack of cash for the weekend.” 

One member of our co-op, Roger Inman, served CCEC Credit Union loyally and after his death in 1989 a memorial award commemorated his work. The award is given by CCEC annually in recognition of a project that has made a significant contribution to the economic development of the community. And that’s how Roger would have wanted it.  

I first met Roger in 1975 when I moved to Vancouver from Ontario. He had moved from Winnipeg around the same time with his tent in his backpack and had heard about CRS starting the Tunnel Canary cannery. He didn’t know much about co-ops or canning at the time but he was most enthusiastic about the project and his sense of humour helped us to get through some of the hot, labour intensive work of processing fruit and jam. Roger continued to work with the cannery collective until its demise when he turned to another CRS project, Uprising Breads Bakery.

There’s more about Roger and other CRS workers in my book, The Co-op Revolution. I’ll be reading from it at the Vancouver Public Library main branch on Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m. All are welcome to attend and books will be for sale. (For more, see: jandegrass.com).

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Released March 18, 2019 called, TogetherBC.

BC. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country, with more than 557,000 people living below the poverty line, including about 100,000 children. Nearly half of those who live in poverty work, and children from single-parent families, Indigenous people, refugees and people with disabilities are much more likely to be poor. In B.C., the poverty line is about $20,000 a year for singles and about $40,000 a year for a family of four.

The Plan brings together policy changes the NDP government has made since its 2017 election. Together, those changes are expected to reduce overall poverty by one-quarter and cut child poverty in half in the next five years. That means 140,000 people, including 50,000 children, should no longer be living in poverty by 2024.

“It’s a strategy that at its heart is about people,” said Shane Simpson, minister of social development and poverty reduction. “It’s about the challenges they face every day just to get by. It’s about the right of every British Columbian to be seen to be valued, to have access to opportunities for a better life for themselves and their families.”

The Pan brings together policies already announced by the government, such as increasing minimum wage to $15.20 by 2021 and making childcare more affordable, which the government plans to spend $1 billion on between 2018 and 2021.

In this year’s budget, the government announced a new child tax credit, which boosts the money families with children get to a possible $1,600 per year, up to age 18. It also increased income and disability assistance rates by $50, bringing basic income assistance for a single, employable person up to $760 per month, still well below the poverty line. The plan uses the Market Basket Measure, which is based on what it costs to buy the goods and services for a modest, basic standard of living, to count people living in poverty.

Future changes could include initiatives on a basic income plan — a plan where all people would receive a minimum income, based on what it takes to live a basic life in BC. An expert panel is exploring the idea, including looking at what may need to happen as artificial intelligence and automation grow and the jobs of today disappear. It is also reviewing our income assistance programs.

Poverty costs all of us, every day. We see its effects in our schools, in our hospitals and on our streets as people struggle to get by. How poverty interacts with our justice and mental health systems is impossible to separate. Alleviating poverty benefits everyone — it’s money well spent.

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Read about the history of the co-op movement in the '70's including CCEC!  Jan DeGrass is one of the first 25 members of CCEC.

From Jan on her new book: 
I’m excited to tell you that The Co-op Revolution has just been published by Caitlin Press. My latest book gives an account of my time with CRS Workers’ Co-op in Vancouver during the heady, activist years of the 1970s. Hope you can make it to my book launch in Vancouver. 
Visit the publisher or Jan's website for more information. 
Vancouver Book Launch: VPL Main Branch Tuesday, April 23 at 7 p.m

Excerpt from the book: “We were undercapitalized, inexperienced, practiced democratic decision-making and some of us smoked dope occasionally. All elements that would make us grow as human beings and as business people. We ran a helluva show.”

In the spring of 1975, a free-spirited Jan DeGrass backpacked across Canada in search of adventure and greater meaning in life. When she arrived in Vancouver, she met a group of people committed to social change; together they reimagined the food industry in BC.

In The Co-op Revolution: Vancouver’s Search for Food Alternatives, author and journalist DeGrass writes about her journey as a founding member of the Collective Resource and Services Workers’ Co-op. Bounding to life during the heady, activist, grant-funded years of 1974–1980, the CRS Co-op became one of the most successful co-ops in BC and was committed to co-operation and worker ownership. While the decade of the seventies is remembered for its new wave of co-ops—usually organized by a “free-flowing” collection of women and men in their twenties—CRS was unique in its success. Among its many accolades, it created the Tunnel Canary cannery, the Queenright Co-operative Beekeepers, Vancouver’s popular Uprising Breads Bakery and a food wholesaler, which later became Horizon Distributors. The economic, political and social skyline of Vancouver was changing. For some, the co-op movement was about crushing capitalism; for others it was simply about buying cheap, wholesome food from people they trusted, and living in communal camaraderie. No matter the pursuit, co-operation was the answer.

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In the City of Vancouver, 44 per cent of tenants do not have affordable rent.  The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation defines affordable housing as shelter that costs less than 30 per cent of before-tax household income. ACORN BC says,” One in five households in Metro Vancouver spend half of their income or more on shelter”.

One year ago, the City of Vancouver said that $3,702 rent was “affordable” housing for a 3 bedroom and $1,903 for a one bedroom; and in East Vancouver a three bedroom rent of $3,365 was affordable.  

Rental housing is scarce.  A single mother is quoted on a CBC release saying, "Everything that was in my price range was kind of dumpy and just not suitable for my daughters and I." At a recent neighbourhood conversation held in Little Mountain Riley Park, community members commented on the lack of rental housing in the area citing that most housing is owned.  There are approximately 1.5 million renters in British Columbia today. Vacancy rates in BC are some of the lowest in the country, averaging 1.3% and in some communities, such as Vancouver and Kelowna, the vacancy rate has fallen below 0.9%.

Affordable housing is an issue in BC and more so in Vancouver. In April 2018, Premier John Horgan appointed a Rental Housing Task Force to advise on how to improve security and fairness for renters and rental housing providers in BC. https://engage.gov.bc.ca/rentalhousingtaskforce/   Their task was to receive submissions from interested parties, review the information and offer advice to the BC government on how it can “ensure safe, secure and affordable rental housing in BC”

Reading through the submissions that are available on line and comments provided by our members, you will see common threads.  A few comments are:

  • Councilor Jean Swanson says rents will keep rising unless vacancy control and rent freezes are implemented.
  • The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition says, “We are calling for stronger tenant protections including tying rent control to the unit as a central recommendation within an effective poverty reduction plan”. They add, “Without rent control tied to the unit, many of the government’s policy changes will not have the beneficial impact expected or hoped for”.  For example, the social assistance rate increases in the past year have been eaten up by increases in the cost of (SRO) rental housing.  Stronger tenant protections, and building affordable social and rental housing is needed.
  • The Office of the Seniors Advocate says, “The most vulnerable are the 20% per cent of seniors who are both low income and renters. The median income for BC seniors is $26,000 a year, who spend 35% of their income on housing, leaving them with $16,900 a year ($1400/month) to meet all other expenses. But, half of BC seniors who rent have a gross income of $21,000 ($1530 per month) or less. These seniors make tough choices on what bills to pay or prescriptions need to be filled (the deductible for Pharmacare was recently eliminated for those on low income but the co-payment remains). Many necessities including: assistance with housekeeping, grocery shopping, shoveling the sidewalk, a walker, eyeglasses and hearing aids, all have fees that add up and cannot be paid with their monthly income.
  • ACORN Members’ Top Three Priorities are Lack of affordable housing; Rent control loopholes; and Renovictions and demovictions.
  • Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says, “There is a grave risk that all the improvements and gains experienced for low-income people due to minimum wage increases, welfare rate increases, child care fee reductions and more will be wiped out by rent increases”.

At the same time, Canada recognizes housing as a human right.  So, what did the BC Government learn through the Rental Task Force and what is next?  While they have a Report with recommendations released in the fall 2018, let’s look at what the latest BC Budget included:

  • Funding for 200 Modular housing units but Councilor (and CCEC Member). Jean Swanson, who introduced the city’s motion calling for 600 more modular homes, recently estimated there’s a need for 2,500 units in Vancouver.
  • Establishing a province wide rent bank, which provides low-interest loans to renters who need immediate, short-term relief to prevent unnecessary evictions.
  • Providing additional benefits to seniors living independently in rental accommodation, through the Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER) program, by an average of $930 per year,

There is also a groundswell of community members rallying and creating options to deal with the lack of affordable housing and coming up with various options.  For example, CCEC Member, the Galiano Community Loan Fund.  While they are not working specifically on the rental housing situation, they are providing funds to support housing on the Island and their story is worth mentioning. The fund was created by Galiano Islanders who have come together as lenders to support borrowers in the community who need access to affordable housing on the Island (and other needs).  Over the past 8 years, the fund has provided loan guarantees of approximately $100,000.  To date, they have not had one loan that has not been or is not being fully repaid.  Anita Braha, President for the Fund says, “Most, if not all of those loan guarantee decisions were made by the Board.  We know each other.  We are neighbours, friends, we may work together, we may volunteer together.  In most cases, the loans have a large component of character behind them”. 

Their model has been successful.  Anita says, “There seems to be a lot of interest in what I will call impact financing; that is, money raised and used to benefit people and communities”.  They have been contacted by various firms interested in community investment programs, seeking to better understand their fund and to get advice on this type of initiative. The Federal Government also recognizes the benefit of the social finance ecosystem and marketplace by investing $50million into an investment readiness stream  (Lauren Dobell, VCIB, Nov. 25/18)

Yes, housing and especially the lack of affordable rental housing is an issue.  Cities throughout B.C. have been too reliant on housing such as secondary suites to fill the rental stock.  We need to put more emphasis and reorient our thinking towards secure, long-term rental housing.

Share your thoughts and comments! 
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The nutritious diet recommended in the new Canada Food Guide is out of reach for millions of Canadians because they can’t afford it.

If we want to stop millions of Canadians from going to bed hungry every night, we need to ensure that they have the ability to access food. So, who is going hungry in this country?  We know that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada. However, did you know that we have a growing community of working poor whose wages do not cover basic necessities? Inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meagre pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity in this country.

Did you know that 31% of single mothers are missing meals so their kids can eat? Or that one in six children live in households that can’t afford to put supper on the table? In BC, the average monthly cost of the 2017 nutritious food basket for a family of four is now $1,019.  

Individuals don’t fare better. A person receives $760 per month on social assistance and has $18.25 per week to spend on food. Despite the two increases in the past year that have raised the rate to $760 per month, the additional $150 has been eaten by the increase of $130 in rents to Single Room Occupancy hotels in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (example).  Jean Swanson, speaking to her experience on the Welfare Food Challenge says, “It was hard eating on $19 a week (2017 amount). I tried, then cheated and gave up. The food was too boring and not nutritious. Dieticians have told us that you just can’t have a healthy diet on this paltry amount of money.”

The new Canada Food Guide aims to support people to live healthier lives. The new guide provides guidance on what we should eat that is more plants and plant-based protein, more whole grains, less sugar, less saturated fat—and more importantly,  how to eat—at home, with others, with joy and  pleasure. The addition of this social context is important. We know the power of food to connect us to our communities and neighbours thereby increasing our sense of belonging. 

The guidelines in the new Canada Food Guide are to be commended, especially introducing the social aspect on eating with friends, family and at home. As long as we continue to have poverty in our rich country, there will be millions of our neighbours who cannot afford to live healthier lives.  Poverty is the root of the problem for those who are food insecure. 

We encourage all our members to support the work of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, and to support food and garden programs that allow all our community members to eat and share a meal together. CCEC will continue to advocate for decent living wages and fairer social benefits.

For more information:

The new Canada Food Guide highlights the biggest obstacle to healthy eating—poverty – McLeans Article

The New Canada Food Guide

Jean Swanson on Why the Welfare Food Challenge was cancelled in 2018

 * Food Costing in BC 2017: Assessing the affordability of healthy eating  October 2018

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