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April 2014: Would you credit it?

April 29, 2014

rochdale pioneers

In 1844 a group of men in northern England decided to take a stand against the capitalist masters of the Industrial Revolution. Calling themselves the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, they penned a list of seven principles of democracy and social wellbeing on which they felt society should be based. Guided by these principles, they opened a co-operative shop, owned by its customer members who all shared in any profit made.

Within a decade there were over 1000 such shops in northern England, run by the British co-operative movement and based on the Rochdale Principles. Ten years later the North of England Co-operative Society became the first British banking endeavour to operate according to these principles.

In 1895, the International Co-operative Alliance was formed as an independent umbrella group representing the interests of the burgeoning co-operative banking movement worldwide.

The Alliance’s guiding principles (taken at times almost verbatim from the Rochdale Principles), include: “Co-operatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.” These same principles appear prominently on the websites of Credit Union Central of Canada and the British Columbia Co-operative Association.

You can’t find these principles on the Coastal Community Credit Union website, but it does offer a list of seven values: accountability, co-operation, excellence, innovation, integrity, responsiveness, and social responsibility. According to its vision statement, CCCU “will be leaders in building relationships that improve financial health, enrich people’s lives and build healthier communities”.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? So does the credit union’s stated value of being “the leaders in making a visible and meaningful difference in building healthier communities. Our communities are our home.

Try telling that to the residents of Sointula, Alert Bay, Cortes (and the soon-to-be-former 16 CCCU employees in those three communities). On April 4th, with no warning whatsoever, these islanders were informed that as of July 5th all CCCU the branches and all financial services on their communities will be withdrawn ( including ATM machines).

The impact of losing these services will be devastating – especially coming just as the tourist season on which much of their economies depends is just kicking off.

Accountability? Co-operation? Excellence? Integrity? Responsiveness? Social Responsibility? Pull the other one.

It is a sad fact that no one is particularly surprised when a bank screws them over. A credit union screwing over three coastal communities, on the other hand, is immensely disappointing.

CCCU claims these three branches are not viable. Apparently they are being subsidised “by not an insignificant amount”. Rather like BC Ferries refusing to release the financial information on which service cuts and fare rises were based, CCCU refuses to release the details of this subsidy to the three communities – or to their elected representatives who have written to CCCU requesting the financial details upon which the closure decisions were made – and modestly pleading that the closures might, at a minimum, be delayed until after this year’s tourist season ends. The request and plea fell on stone deaf ears.

If this decision is not reversed, in early July all Sointula and Alert Bay accounts will be transferred to the CCCU branch in Port McNeil and all Cortes accounts will be transferred to the Quadra branch. (The hours of service on Quadra are being reduced by one day a week and it is widely suspected that it will be the next branch closure in the not too distant future. If this happens, both Cortes and Quadra accounts would be transferred to Campbell River. At which point, a grandmother on Cortes receiving a $50 cheque for her birthday would have to spend $50 on ferry fares to Campbell River to cash it.)

The three communities are not going down without a fight.

Buried in the BC Credit Union Act, they discovered a provision allowing members to call a Special General Meeting to vote on special resolutions. Such a resolution was drafted, calling on CCCU to rescind its decision to close the three branches. A minimum of 300 CCCU member signatures were required to put forward the resolution. In three days nearly 1000 signatures were collected (including some from Gabriola).

Representatives of the three communities (including my friend Morag from Sointula) presented the petition to CCCU in advance of its annual general meeting on April 16th. At the meeting itself, they were stonewalled by CCCU chief executive Adrian Legin (who didn’t seem to understand the difference between a bank and a credit union) and board chair Suzanne Jakobsen.

As Morag describes it: “I imagined that when the board and the management team heard and understood the impact of the decisions they’d made to close these three island branches they’d at least show a little concern, or compassion or humility. But they didn’t. Instead they just instructed the staff not to engage with us.

“Now the decision they’ve made to close these branches – right at the beginning of tourist season, when we bring in about 80% of our annual income – seems not just careless and thoughtless, but designed to cut us off at the knees and just a tad vindictive.”

Clearly CCCU wanted to simply ignore their pesky resolution, but they are legally obliged to announce on May 7th whether or not the board will agree to the requested Special General Meeting on July 19th.

According to Morag, “The only thing CCCU let slip at the AGM is that they are just a bit worried about what might happen next.”

Knowing the resiliency of islanders in general and my friend Morag in particular, they bloody well should be.

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Want to follow the campaign? Go to and “Like” their Facebook page.

 

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