The Saint-Camille Co-operative Initiatives—Home Care, Housing and Rural Development

Case Study

Prepared for the
AAFC Co-operatives Secretariat

New Economy Development Group /
Groupe Éconov Développement
Le Coopérative - La Clé

June 2005


This case study looks at how a small rural community in Québec has aimed to reverse the trend of rural de-population, and rebuild services and economic opportunities for local people. The community of Saint-Camille established a housing co-op and two 'solidarity co-ops' (also known as multi-stakeholder co-operatives) as a way to pool the resources of local residents and development organizations to address the needs of seniors, and to attract young families and other populations to their community.

The housing co-operative established in 2000 has allowed local seniors to stay in their community and receive the support they need to remain as independent as possible. The co-op currently has nine special needs units, with room for expansion if required, and the facility also contains a community kitchen and a health care clinic for visiting health professionals.

La Corvée, a 'care and services' co-op, was set up to provide special needs care for seniors in the housing co-op and for the general public in Saint-Camille and nearby communities. In 2005 the co-op had 65 members, including 45 service users, 15 supporting agency members, and 2 worker members. The co-operative also provides community gardens, recreational programs, and a 'support for living' service for seniors who wish to stay in their own homes.

The latest community initiative is Coopérative La Clé des Champs, another solidarity co-op that aims to renew the community's farming and forestry economy. The co-op began by creating a 12-acre market garden, and the plan is to develop a neighborhood of new homes around the agricultural area, allowing each family to grow some of its own food. The co-op also hopes to develop micro-farms on fallow land in the area and explore local value-added opportunities—a plan that is hoped to appeal to young families interested in combining small-scale farming with off-farm jobs. Finally, the co-op is working on a plan to harvest non-timber forest products in the area, which would offer more local jobs and value-added opportunities.

This detailed case study of the Saint-Camille co-operatives explores the development process, the partners involved, the strengths, and the challenges as these co-ops work to revitalize their community.

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Acronyms used in this document

ASPQ - Association pour la santé publique du Québec
CCQ - Conseil de la coopération du Québec
CDE - Coopérative de développement de l'Estrie
CDR - Coopérative de développement régional
CLD - Local development centre
CLE - Centre local d'emploi
FCDRQ - Fédération des coopératives de développement régional du Québec
FCHE - Fédération Coop-Habitat Estrie
RCM - Regional County Municipality

Table of Contents


The present case study is one in a series of seven independent case studies commissioned by the Co-operatives Secretariat of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The seven co-operatives included in this series are located across Canada and involved in six priority sectors:

  • adding value to agriculture
  • access to health care and home care
  • economic development in rural, remote or northern communities
  • development of Aboriginal communities
  • integration of immigrants into Canadian communities
  • community solutions to environmental challenges

The overall objective of the seven-study series is to examine and understand the co-operatives' special administrative practices and the responses to specific challenges or opportunities. The case study series will enable those in charge of the co-operatives to better understand the problems faced by today's co-operatives. In addition, the co-operatives themselves will be better positioned to deal with the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that arise by observing how the other co-operatives respond. Collectively and individually, these case studies will provide strategies that can serve as tools for building and innovating within the co-operative movement.

The case study series was developed in cooperation with an advisory management committee struck by the Co-operatives Secretariat. It is composed of individuals from a variety of fields associated with co-operative development, such as the business and community economic development sectors, and possessing a range of expertise.

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This case study on Saint-Camille's La Corvée addresses the priority sector for improved access to health care and home care. The study also refers to another co-operative initiative that has to do with economic development in rural communities.

We have chosen to present the La Corvée co-op initiative for its innovative quality. It aims to bring appropriate services and care to regional seniors but also the general public. This model has attractive features. The first stems from the fact that the project encompasses two separate co-operative entities--Saint-Camille's La Corvée community care and services co-op and a housing co-op. We will try to shed light on why the proponents decided to use this particular structure.

This document presents both co-operatives as a single project known as La Corvée. However, since each of these entities has a separate mission and program that will be described below, we identify the care and services co-op and the housing co-op as such.

The second feature involves the co-operative model used, the "solidarity co-op" that is also described as a social co-op. This is the most recent co-operative configuration in Quebec.

This study will also briefly describe another recent co-operative initiative that emerged just over two years ago, again patterned after the solidarity co-op model. This project, the Saint-Camille Coopérative La Clé des Champs, is designed to spur the growth of value added activity in the agricultural and forestry sectors, thus addressing the first of the Co-operatives Secretariat's six priorities.

All of these co-operative initiatives share the aim of revitalizing the community by creating an attractive quality of life to hold on to more of the local people who would be leaving for lack of appropriate resources and to draw new families to the area for renewed population growth in this southern Quebec village.

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The information for this case study comes basically from two sources: interviews with stakeholders and documentation having to do with the themes addressed in this study.

Stakeholders include the coordinators of the co-ops studied, a member of the board of directors of the care and services co-op who was also a key figure in its creation and, lastly, the coordinator of the Saint-Camille Corporation de développement socio-économique.

The questionnaire submitted to the first three stakeholders sought their opinions on the following:

  1. The reasons for choosing the co-operative form and the solidarity co-op model.
  2. The development dynamic of this rural community as a setting for co-operative initiatives and leadership training.
  3. The influence of the first solidarity co-op on the emergence of a second project.
  4. The project's innovative aspects and the best practices used as models.
  5. The strengths and opportunities, the challenges and barriers.
  6. Co-operative living and the project's commitment and development.

The fourth person was mainly questioned about topics 2 and 3 on the question grid.

Apart from interviewing these stakeholders, we reviewed over 20 documents dealing with solidarity co-ops, social cohesion in rural communities, rural development in Quebec, the development of partnership enterprises in Quebec and more specific reviews of community development in Saint-Camille. These sources were supplemented by various documents from the co-ops studied—annual reports, promotional materials, financial results, business plans and presentations for award competitions.

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Profile and context


The Saint-Camille township municipality lies 22 km southeast of Asbestos, 40 km northeast of Sherbrooke and 185 km east of Montréal. Administratively, the municipality forms part of the Asbestos Regional County Municipality (RCM) that is a subdivision of the Estrie Region. The Saint-Camille area was settled in the mid-nineteenth century, mainly by French Canadians. The municipality was officially created on May 4, 1859.

Since the 1991 census, Saint-Camille's population has been relatively stable at around 450. At its peak in 1911 it had slightly more than double this number.

Table 1. Saint-Camille's changing population

  • 1911 population: 1,061
  • 1961 population: 676
  • 1991 population: 458
  • 1996 population: 459
  • 2001 population: 440

Source: Statistics Canada, Community Profiles, 2001.

The median age of this population is 37 compared with 38.8 for Quebec as a whole. Those aged 34 and over are better educated than the Quebec average. These people are mainly Francophones and natives of Quebec (Statistics Canada, 2001).

Employment and income distribution

Saint-Camille is a rural community based traditionally on farming and forestry. These sectors require fewer workers today and the service sector is undeveloped compared to Quebec as a whole.

The median total income of people aged 15 and over in the 2001 Canada Census was $17,884 for Saint-Camille compared to $20,665 for Quebec overall (Statistics Canada, 2001)

Heritage conservation

Preserving local and institutional heritage is important for Saint-Camille. People had to band together to keep their post office when the authorities wanted them to make do with a postal outlet. They also kept their credit union at a time when credit unions in many villages were being merged. The village still has its elementary school. Although it has never been threatened with closing, that school is important. Its security depends on steady or rising child enrolment.

The post office, credit union and school are symbolic values for every rural community in the Province of Quebec. The idea of closing them feels like a threat to the village's survival.

Social dynamic

Saint-Camille is fertile ground for debate, innovation and projects. Participatory democracy has a long history here. The ability to discuss projects, develop a shared vision and join together to build things is in some ways part of the local culture.

Over the years, the people of Saint-Camille have built institutions that express their values and vision. Each of these institutions works through networking and partnering to entrench its gains. Co-op enterprises are part of this social dynamic.

Culture of co-operation

Saint-Camille has a co-operative tradition. Earlier co-ops emerged in past generations—a farm co-op that today has merged with others to form the Coopérative agricole du Pré-Vert, the Saint-Camille credit union affiliated with the Desjardins Movement that has given financial support to new co-op projects and the Saint-Camille Coopérative de reboisement d'érables à sucre. A number of people have been members of regional and provincial co-operatives and thus built up layers of experience with co-operative living.

Rural setting

Saint-Camille's development dilemma stems from a rural environment that lies open to destructive forces threatening its integrity. This community is not so far from a city but still far enough to make daily round trips to outside jobs less than attractive. The workforce in the primary farm and forest sectors is shrinking. Service jobs tend to cluster in the towns.

In 1991 Quebec's rural Estates General met to mobilize resources and strategies for dealing with remote rural environments that are being weakened and are losing ground. The recommendations that came out of this meeting included the need to "take charge of overall and detailed rural development" and undertake to "do their utmost in their various fields to make the rural development model a reality." The Estates General recommended an emphasis on "individual worth, communities taking charge of their future, saluting and promoting regional and local values, working with local and regional partners, diversifying the regional economic base, protecting and regenerating resources, reengineering political authority downwards and promoting alternatives for sustainable development" (Solidarité rurale du Québec).

A number of Saint-Camille notables were present and involved in the Estates General. Local strategies and activities in Saint-Camille were fair reflections of the mood of these Estates.

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Local agencies

Saint-Camille's current co-operative initiatives flow from a similar social and community dynamic expressing a determination to offset the deterioration of the rural environment with its accompanying loss of services and thus quality of life.

Behind Saint-Camille's plans for social and economic development stands a group of people described as visionaries who believe it possible to halt the loss and decay of local heritage. This band of proponents see co-operative projects as part of a general strategy to curb the population drain that brings a loss of services prompting more people to leave their communities.

Support from local agencies is important here. The visionary leaders behind Saint-Camille's co-operative projects have worked through a few agencies, some of which played a leading part.

Groupe du Coin

This is a private service firm that manages venture capital and enjoys the flexibility needed to facilitate the establishment of local agencies and services. It has philanthropic aims to save local heritage and maintain Saint-Camille as a community. Its members have amassed expertise and know-how that are available for project development.

This firm is behind P'tit Bonheur de Saint-Camille and La Corvée. It has played a major role in acquiring buildings to house these agencies and taken the time to shape them in legal, financial and administrative terms.

P'tit Bonheur de Saint-Camille

P'tit Bonheur de Saint-Camille, a community and cultural centre in the heart of the village, is certainly the entity best known outside Saint-Camille since its cultural activities are conspicuous and ongoing. Every year P'tit Bonheur hosts scores of well-known artists, a number of less well- known artists and painting and photography shows.

For locals, however, this is primarily a meeting place with weekly programs, gatherings, all kinds of training and discussion. This agency contributes to the cultural enrichment of the community, a factor identified as key to local development.

Saint-Camille Desjardins credit union

The Saint-Camille caisse populaire supports local projects financially. It is itself a co-operative in the Desjardins network.

The Saint-Camille Corporation de développement socio-économique

Founded in 1995 with assistance from the local council, the Corporation de développement socio-économique plays a supporting role in local project development and the quest for financial, human and relational resources. It had much to do with establishing the Coopérative La Clé des Champs and sponsored that project for its first year. Since 1998 it has staged Saint-Camille's farm diversification show every September.

The Township Municipality of Saint-Camille

Local council support is important. It plays an integrating role and stimulates health and good citizen relations. The council listens to people. It has lent steady support to co-operative projects through the Corporation de développement socio-économique and public information campaigns. The municipal council is headed by a respected mayor who listens to people. His attitude contributes significantly to the social dynamic. Locals describe him as very competent.

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Quebec context

Quebec's consensus-building and partnering environment dates back to the 1960s and favours the development of co-ops and community enterprises (Lévesque and Ninacs, 1997). It is an array of regional and provincial support networks on which co-operatives can rely. These afford expertise for project start-up, support, financial assistance, networking, and training and communications tools. Network members include local development centres, regional development co-operatives, community economic development corporations, various co-op federations and the Chantier de l'économie sociale.

All these organizations amass and channel collective resources and know-how that create an environment facilitating the development of community enterprises.

The co-op model and rural development

From the standpoint of community development, the use of the co-op model has seemed attractive and compatible with development values and visions because the co-op structure is basically democratic, locally centred, conscious of its social environment and supportive of solidarity. A co-op's mission is to increase the well-being of people and their environment.

The co-operative choice is based on the emergence of a new kind of co-op in Quebec, the "solidarity co-op." According to a study of these co-ops, the model is chosen mainly for "reasons involving social values that create a sense of belonging to the co-operative and build ties of partnership among member categories" (Chagnon, 2004: 20). The solidarity co-op is effective in contexts where local support is crucial.

The choice of the co-operative model was also conditioned by the importance attached to the ethical values and collective energy of co-operative enterprises. The importance of these values confirms the choice of the "solidarity co-op" approach that includes collective authority and potential worker involvement in corporate governance.

The solidarity co-op concept was presented to project proponents by agents from the Coopérative de développement de l'Estrie (CDE).

The "solidarity co-op" model

The solidarity co-operative is the latest model seen in Quebec. These co-ops now number 103 with 36,499 members, $10.8M in assets, 2,003 jobs and $44M in turnover (CCQ 2005).

Table 2: Solidarity co-ops in Quebec and related jobs, 1999-2003
  1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Co-ops reporting 44 71 85 90 103
Jobs 809 1,333 1,858 2,168 2,003

Source: Ministère du Développement économique, de l'Innovation et de l'Exportation (MDEIE).

Solidarity co-operatives stand out for their diverse membership and their openness to partnerships. They let workers and users coalesce around a common goal to meet their needs and aspirations. These two groups may be joined by a third, support group with resources to help the co-op achieve its objectives through the solidarity principle.

This model did not just appear out of the blue in Quebec. It emulates a European model seen in 1960s Italy, where they were called social solidarity co-operatives or just social co-operatives. They were originally intended to meet primary needs like food and housing and get services to people in trouble. Later they expanded gradually into business ventures (Laville 1999).

We find solidarity co-operatives mainly in home care, professional, business and neighbourhood (grocery, gas, food) services in rural and suburban settings (CCQ 2005). However, they may have the greatest impact in areas involving the school to work transition and personal services as well as "the deterioration of rural environments, the area of health and social services and retail sectors or businesses that are seen as unprofitable" (Girard, 2001).

The solidarity co-operative model is generally chosen for reasons "stemming mainly from community values or co-operative connections that arise among the various member groups" (Chagnon, 2004). The presence of workers and users in management generally means a more solid commitment to the organization and a more concerted effort. This model is commonly seen in less competitive sectors where community effort is essential for growth.

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Development and evolution of co-operative projects

Enterprises promoting local development

The recent co-operative initiatives La Corvée  and more recently Coopérative La Clé des Champs are part of an overall strategy to revitalize the community and revive population growth and sustainable prosperity. Everyone contributes to this general aim by his or her role and individual service.

La Corvée  offers solutions by creating an environment that enables seniors to stay in their community and avoid being uprooted and sent to a nearby community with appropriate services.

The Coopérative La Clé des Champs, with its projects around the idea of a food-producing community, offers solutions geared more to a younger group and preferably young families with projects that can generate value added in the farming and forestry sectors.

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Origin of La Corvée 

The Corvée  co-op project stems from an observed lack of housing and appropriate care for seniors forced to leave properties that are too demanding and often too big and the need to "find a new structuring use for a partly vacant property with architectural value that gives focus to the village centre and is recognized as a heritage area in the RCM plan," in the words of Sylvain Laroche of the care and services co-op board of directors.

For a long time the people of Saint-Camille have wanted to offer seniors local services attuned to their needs that would enable them to stay in the village instead of leaving for bigger communities nearby. Governments were approached repeatedly but their program criteria either failed to match local needs or inflated project costs.

The nursing home model was also questioned: it struck the people of Saint-Camille as overly institutional. Close ties are important in the Saint-Camille community. The model had to protect this closeness in social relationships and give seniors a sense of being full members of the community.

The people of Saint-Camille, especially seniors, have a strong sense of belonging and are determined to stay in their municipality. The senior population has a variety of requirements: some people need custom housing and daily care to meet their basic food, hygiene and health needs while others are more independent though in need of occasional support and regular care.

When the parish council put its rectory up for sale in 1998, this was seen as a chance to develop a seniors' home and care centre. The building was bought by the Groupe du Coin with the idea of giving it over a bit later to the agency formed around this project. At that point the decision to form a co-op was not even on the table. It was time to take a chance and explore the resources available to complete the project.

The Groupe du Coin looked for a resource person who could take over the reins of the project. They found their woman in Joanne Gardner, a University of Sherbrooke student working on a certificate in gerontology. A Montréal native, she had been living in Saint-Camille for some years and put down roots there.

For Joanne Gardner this project was a chance to create her own job and work in her community once she had completed her training. To do this, however, she had to agree to a lot of volunteer work. This project also gave her a thesis topic to complete her studies, a topic that had immediate and practical applications thereafter.

The Groupe du Coin and the Saint-Camille Corporation de développement socio-économique accepted Joanne's offer to draft a brief exploring the introduction of a different model. Joanne Gardner suggested that the usual kinds of seniors' homes were not necessarily the most effective approach and it would be a good idea to explore a different, more flexible model that would better suit the needs of this client group.

At this point the seniors were surveyed on their own needs and wishes by the Corporation de développement socio-économique. They were definitely set on spending the rest of their lives in their home community and if possible in their own homes. In order to meet these aspirations, the project would focus not only on creating accommodation but also on services for ageing persons living at home.

The care and services co-op was registered in 1999 as "a community enterprise with an emphasis on the well-being of seniors and the general public and keeping everyone in a natural home setting through alternative care and services based on prevention, education and activities" (Gardner and Bellerose, 2004).

The co-op was called La Corvée  to reflect the development vision of the founding members, who wanted to build a place of mutual assistance, solidarity and teamwork.

It began operation in January 2000 after the two years needed to plan, prepare and launch the project. Its mission is to offer services that create a pleasant home setting and enable seniors to remain independent for as long as possible and stay in their community until their final days.

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Creating a housing co-op

An innovative feature of La Corvée  is the project's inclusion of two separate co-ops: a solidarity co-op and a housing co-op. Why? The initial reason was to take advantage of the housing co-op model. This had not been part of the initial plan, but in the process of acquiring the rectory and planning to build special needs units it turned out that the specific assistance needed for the project was available only to housing co-operatives. Solidarity co-operatives were not eligible for the AccèsLogis program of the Société d'habitation du Québec and so the housing co-op was created in 2000.

The two co-ops form part of the same overall organization but each has its own administration and financial service. There are two boards of directors with separate memberships. However, the manager sits on both boards and oversees both co-ops' operations.

Was creating the housing co-op advantageous from a co-op standpoint or simply a way of getting grants, because it was not planned that way? Those who were asked saw the creation of two distinct entities as positive in business terms since each entity has its own mission, an array of support services for the care and services co-op and affordable housing for the housing co-op. From the corporate development standpoint the housing component is more local and the service component tends to become regional. In financial management terms, the housing component is stable and predictable while the service component is more unstable and undependable.

Looking back, the manager sees a definite advantage in having two entities: if they were together the care and services side might eat up the money needed to manage and maintain the housing co-op buildings.

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Services are delivered on two levels:
  • The housing co-op manages nine special needs units, a community kitchen, a business office and a special needs health care centre. In addition to the original rectory, the housing co-op has built a wing with five of the nine housing units. All of this forms the Maison Art-mon-Nid. Housing is first offered to Saint-Camille seniors who need support to ensure their well-being. The housing co-op will eventually expand by adding more buildings if the demand is there.
  • Special services are provided by the care and services co-op to meet the needs of seniors and persons in need so that they can live in a natural home environment for as long as possible. This support involves looking for personalized solutions with the needy and their families. It helps people in crisis come out the other end and regain as much of their independence as possible, for example where there is a debilitating health problem.
  • A number of activities and care services are also available to the general public, including users from nearby municipalities. As well, community gardens have been set up on the grounds, along with rest and play areas. It must be understood that the co-operative provides no help with housekeeping (this is done by another enterprise), though there are general help and support services including rehabilitation to restore independence after a crisis. Care and support are offered in a way that respects the person's dignity, irrespective of the person's health or independence. Special attention is paid to people going through extremely difficult times to help them get through and regain their independence.

To expand the range of health and welfare services, the care and services co-op makes a room available to therapists who come in regularly and provide their services in-house. Health clinic services are provided by an osteopath, nurse (a foot care expert), therapist (helping relationship), esthetician, acupuncturist and phytotherapist.

For the past year the care and services co-op has been working to introduce the "support for living" service in response to seniors' wish to remain in their homes as long as possible with personalized support to help maintain their independence or regain it after a crisis. These services are also offered to clients who live in nearby municipalities. The Asbestos RCM CLD has provided financial assistance to get the service going.

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Membership and participation

In 2005 the care and services co-op had 62 members including 45 users, 15 support members and 2 worker members. The support members included six agencies and enterprises. One quarter of the members, including half of the support members, came from outside Saint-Camille.

The housing co-op has 9 members living in Maison Art-mon-Nid.

Member involvement in general meetings is described as very good. This success is explained by an attractive presentation by Ms. Gardner in the part of Auntie Rose.

Co-op living also elicits strong participation in social activities and draws volunteers for various jobs. The care and services co-op has a special focus on intergenerational participation and its public appeals invite youth as well as adults to get involved as volunteers.

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Jobs created

Employment is a major issue. The care and services co-op created two permanent jobs for the manager and the person responsible for the "support for living" service. The latter's income currently depends in part on CLD support but should be increasingly paid out of revenue from services delivered within a 25 km radius of Asbestos RCM.

Beyond these two positions, workers are hired for specific temporary purposes. These jobs are usually supported by wage subsidy programs. The workers are viewed from two perspectives: first, they help to enrich services and second, they experience a specific set of circumstances and become ambassadors for the innovative model.

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Financing of co-operative projects

Government programs have played an essential part in Saint-Camille's co-operative initiatives. The care and services co-op would have had a difficult birth without these support programs.

The main subsidy programs helping this co-op include Canadian Rural Partnership: $50,000 granted in 2001 with payments spread over three years under a program to support rural community development with innovative approaches and practices. Ms. Gardner has found it very helpful.

The Secrétariat aux aînés du Québec contributed $15,000 under its seniors' action program in 2004 and this amount was $20,000 in 2005 to reflect a user increase. The Eastern Townships Regional Health and Social Services Board has been providing an annual subsidy of $5,000 since 2000 under a program that winds up in 2005. The money has been paid to the housing co-op, which forwards it to the care and services co-op.

The care and services co-op has also received a number of wage subsidies from Human Resources Development Canada's Summer Career Placement program, the Quebec government's anti-poverty fund and others from regional funds administered by the Asbestos RCM CLD.

The housing co-op has been supported in buying and renovating the rectory and building additional housing units. The funding package is summarized in the table below

Table 3. Housing co-op funding package

  • Accès-Logis in the form of a mortgage amortized over 25 years: $263,116
  • Local development centre (CLD): $30,000
  • Fédération Coop-Habitat Estrie: $12,000
  • Municipality of Saint-Camille: $6,000
  • Community contribution: $2,000
  • Mortgage in the housing co-op's name: $207,564

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Financial situation

In 2004 the care and services co-op had a turnover of nearly $70,000. Some 75% of its revenue came from outside sources based on government programs and regional funds. The rest came from local sources including almost 20% in payments for services. More than 75% of spending went for wages. In 2005 the budget anticipated sales growth of over 30%, mainly from the new "support for living" service.

For a little more income security, the care and services co-op's 2005 project is to create a foundation registered as a charity that will bring financial support and maintain contact with donors, thus relieving the co-op's financial management burden. This is also to offset the fact that Quebec will not recognize a co-op as an agency that can issue tax-deductible donation receipts. Yet the care and services co-op has non-profit status. This provision must be recorded in the co-op bylaws after approval by the general meeting with the comment that the co-op cannot pay dividends or royalties on its preferred shares. According to an advisor working in a CDR, co-ops use this clause to gain access to certain funding programs or comply with the law for fund-raising activities.

In future, the care and services co-op would like to diversify its revenue sources by approaching the community agency support programs of the Regional Health and Social Services Board with evidence that its preventive work and keeping people in their home settings as long as possible are saving Quebec's health budget a lot of money. It would have grounds for requesting and receiving funding under these programs, since La Corvée's innovative approach is prolonging seniors' independence and delaying their need for government services. However, this remains to be proven and requires a thorough review of the services offered and their impact on the population of seniors and persons in need.

When it comes to home care there are various co-ops and agencies delivering services recognized by the government, which covers some costs. The care and services co-op lacks access to this public support for two reasons: first, the services it provides are not housekeeping but support services and, second, as a rule only one recognized agency per RCM delivers this kind of service.

Service revenue

Personal services have a range of pricing formulas. For example, the "health and rest" service including relaxation, physical activities and group play is intended for small groups. People wanting this service have to sign up for a minimum period.

Education services are provided through government agency programming. For example, the "prevention for better ageing" tour was funded jointly by the seniors' secretariat through its seniors' action program and the Municipality of Saint-Camille under Pacte rural, a Quebec government program. This tour gave the ageing food for thought about lifestyles that would allow them to maintain their vitality as long as possible through advice on physical exercise, leisure, the benefits of laughter, the importance of drinking water and so on.

Health clinic services are charged directly to users by the therapists, who are not employees but independent workers. The role of the care and services co-op is to make clinic space available and promote their services. The clinic is in the Maison Art-mon-Nid.

The "support for living" service is a home service for users and their families, who are charged per visit and time spent.

The services provided by La Corvée deliberately complement existing home services. In other words, La Corvée has no intention of offering services in competition with nursing or housekeeping services but working with the agencies that provide them.

The care and services co-op is open to everyone in Saint-Camille and vicinity: the user-member group is not big enough to require its full capacity. Members have priority access and a preferred rate slightly below the non-member rate. It is not easy for non-members to join the co-operative: the $250 charge is an obstacle even when they learn that it is an investment, not an expense, and staggered payment schemes are available.

The care and services co-op wants to make its services available to the greatest number. In 2005 it plans to introduce a system under the coming foundation that will gear prices to users' budgets. The hope is that this will increase user numbers.

Management and administration

The care and services co-op is headed by a nine-member board of directors: seven user members, one worker member and a support member representative. Day-to-day direction is provided by the manager. The housing co-op has its own board of directors with five members: three tenants, an FCHE representative for administrative support and the manager of La Corvée.

The management of the care and services co-op is getting more and more complex. This trend means tension for the manager, whose professional strengths are with the education arm. She wants to delegate more as circumstances allow. However, she values the support of the board of directors with its members' areas of expertise. They have local as well as outside involvements and bring a lot of experience with them, but they are also under a lot of pressure that limits their availability.

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Social recognition

Saint-Camille's co-operative projects are attracting attention. La Corvée has already received four awards.

  • In 2002: Prix Ruralité at the sixth edition of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada's Awards of Excellence Evening.
  • In 2003: Award of distinction at the Gala du Mérite Coopératif regional for the distinction and innovation component.
  • In 2001: Award of distinction at the Gala du Mérite Coopératif regional for the new co-operative distinction component.
  • In 2004: Jean-Pierre Bélanger Prize of the Association pour la santé publique du Québec (ASPQ).

La Corvée is garnering attention in co-op, university research and community economic development circles. The manager says that she regularly gets visitors who are interested in the innovative model promoted by her co-op.

Training and capacity building

Training is a capacity-building factor for workers and board members. Since La Corvée's inception, the manager has undergone training in time management, organizational management in a non-profit agency, physical drill processes and computerized accounting.

One board member has taken a course provided by the CDE on the duties and responsibilities of a board of directors. But the training that has had the biggest impact is the undergraduate applied ethics microprogram taken by five board members and the manager. The course is given to several people from Saint-Camille by Professor J.-F. Malherbe of Sherbrooke University. According to the people questioned, this course gets people thinking about the need for local and collective decision making and develops communications and conflict management skills.

Other courses are available locally on governance, organizational strategies, social trends, sustainable development and so on.


La Corvée puts our regular bulletins under the heading "La Corvée informs you." These articles are made available to regional media for possible publication. Topics include prevention, relaxation and advice to seniors. This is also a way of promoting the services of La Corvée. Services are further advertised by pamphlets, posters and awareness sessions.

Sylvain Laroche, one of the proponents of La Corvée, also produces an electronic journal called "Mon village" to publicize Saint-Camille's projects to the outside world. "Mon village" gives La Corvée another showcase.

A new co-operative initiative

The Corvée experiment has launched a new co-operative initiative. Coopérative La Clé des Champs was started in Saint-Camille three years ago. It too is a solidarity co-operative.

Coopérative La Clé des Champs grew out of the notion that farming and forestry were providing work for fewer and fewer people and were out of sync with local development. Their growth stems from organizations that interact more at the national and international levels. Local farm production units export their products to regional processing plants. This new co-op project is intended to stimulate the growth of farming and forestry activities that get back in touch with local development and can generate jobs and revenue by diversifying agricultural production and harvesting non-traditional forest resources.

The main goals of Coopérative La Clé des Champs are to interest and involve people in local agri-food products, stimulate local economic viability through sustainable development, identify agricultural succession strategies, explore agricultural diversification, promote the processing and marketing of farm and forest products and help to spread knowledge. The mission of Coopérative La Clé des Champs clearly differs from that of La Corvée but shares the aim of helping to revitalize the community.

The co-op began by putting 12 acres into market gardening production. With the Saint-Camille municipality and Corporation de développement socio-économique, it is promoting an original concept to develop a neighbourhood where people live around a big garden and every family can raise some of its own food. Homes will be developed around the agricultural area.

Coopérative La Clé des Champs is also working on a plan to develop microfarms in an agricultural area that has been left fallow for a number of years. This project is for applicants attracted by part-time farming combined with outside income. The Saint-Camille community is paying special attention to diversifying farm activities. Lastly, for its third year, the co-op is working on a plan to harvest non-timber forest resources. This project is financially supported by the federal Co-operatives Secretariat's Co-operation Development Initiative.

This co-op is run by a seven-member board of directors: a worker member (the coordinator), five user members and a support member. The board members are among the project's proponents.

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Lessons learned

Solidarity co-operative

According to the proponents of the Saint-Camille revitalization projects, the solidarity co-op model has been a major learning experience. Features appreciated by members include the three membership categories, the capacity to draw more on community strengths and a more democratic approach generated by interactions among member groups. In the opinion of a care and service co-op board member, the equal co-op management involvement of the three member categories—users, workers and supporters—means stronger project commitment. This comment echoes the results of a 2004 survey of Quebec solidarity co-op members which found that this model elicited more involvement by workers, users and support members. It is a factor that wields "strong influence favouring the choice of the solidarity co-operative model" (Chagnon, 2004: 23).

Stimulation from the Quebec institutional context

Since the 1960s Quebec has provided a favourable setting for co-op development. The advent of new forms of co-ops like worker co-ops, worker-shareholder co-ops and solidarity co-ops are signs of this dynamic.

Visionary leadership role

The presence of visionary leaders has played a major role in Saint-Camille's co-operatives. These leaders have initiated various recent community projects. A number of them are shareholders in the Groupe du Coin, which was used to capitalize real-estate opportunities that served as the basis for the subsequent P'tit Bonheur and Corvée projects. The same group is also behind the food-producing community idea that created Coopérative La Clé des Champs.

Local and regional social cohesion

A solidarity co-operative emerges in a context with enough social cohesion between individuals and with local institutions. Intergenerational solidarity is one of the basic values supported by the proponents of Saint-Camille's co-ops.

Importance of general training

General, universally-available training helps to stimulate the minds of Saint-Camille's social players and enrich creative thinking while helping to build individual and collective capacities.

Importance attached to culture

Saint-Camille's leaders see cultural development as a driving force and basic factor in social cohesion and collective identity. P'tit Bonheur plays a key role in cultural activity for the village and its 26 community agencies.

Role of communications

Communications form another strategic component of the Saint-Camille community. This works in institutions through meetings, consultations and informational tools. Communications start with listening.

Innovation-friendly atmosphere

According to Saint-Camille co-op members, the solidarity co-op model favours innovation. Communications and dialogue among the three member categories forge a climate conducive to creative solutions.


Beyond member investment, solidarity co-ops rely for funding mainly on government programs to assist the co-operative movement or in the form of wage subsidies. Funding from CLDs, Emploi-Québec programs and programs for the co-op movement are part of the package needed to launch a solidarity co-op. These programs are seen as important.

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Key success factors

  • Saint-Camille's unusual degree of organizational structuring (agencies, associations, institutions) that has made it possible to host, support and supervise this project.
  • Social and political cohesion fostering the harmonious co-ordination of collective and individual strengths.
  • The community's capacity to manage social conflicts and tensions by listening, as practised by co-op boards of directors.
  • Volunteer initiative and involvement in a village with 26 different associations and organizations.
  • Outside resource networks providing expertise to launch and support co-op development.
  • The project's innovative nature in terms of services offered and how they are offered and the interest aroused outside the region by the Corvée experiment represents a kind of positive recognition for the people involved.

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Main obstacles encountered

  • The problem with gaining acceptance of payment for services to individuals.
  • The funding uncertainties of the care and services co-op.
  • Permanent job creation, since temporary jobs relying on government programs have a limited life and are often not renewable.
  • The challenge of gaining recognition for the value of the type of preventive services offered by La Corvée and the resulting lack of stable funding from government health authorities.

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Major issues

Saint-Camille's co-operative projects exist in a rural setting amid the deterioration caused by population decline and exacerbated by government spending cuts that reduce services in rural areas. The major issue for Saint-Camille's co-op proponents is to withstand this trend and devise strategies for turning it around. The Corvée project helps to keep seniors in their community, create jobs, develop activities and heighten intergenerational solidarity and quality of life generally. The Clé des Champs solidarity co-operative attracts new people with innovative housing and a chance to earn a living locally.

Within the care and services co-op there is the issue of financial stability versus revenue that depends on the ability or willingness of governments and users to pay. According to the manager, individual payment is harder for older users to accept when they are accustomed to free health services. Younger users are more ready to support the idea of paying for these services. The result of this difficulty is to limit the co-op's service requests and thus its revenue. The care and services co-op attempts to overcome this by raising awareness in the target population.

A third issue is the capacity of remote rural areas to keep seniors in their home environments while allowing them to maintain their dignity and their joie de vivre through intergenerational solidarity. La Corvée provides an innovative approach that can inspire other rural areas that share this social goal.

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In the rural development scenario, the "solidarity co-operative" model has emerged as a suitable tool for its Saint-Camille proponents. In this case the other co-operative models would not have provided the desired features of expanded local support and increased worker involvement in business decisions on an equal footing with users. In a community where participatory democracy is part of the local culture, this model gives a better focus and a new voice to existing practices.

Revitalizing a rural environment with shrinking resources is not something that can be done overnight. Cost-effectiveness cannot be gauged merely on a short-term basis by reviewing the new co-operatives' financial performance. These outcomes have social and community impacts by enhancing the quality of life, creating jobs and an attractive environment that is good to live in and inviting population growth. It will be interesting to verify the outcomes in a few years' time.

Although the co-operatives' funding is still shaky, their services are so appreciated that the future is assured: the community will not allow its projects to lose momentum. If events jeopardize their survival it is more than likely that the entire Saint-Camille community would rally with support and money. That is unquestionably the most solid foundation for the co-operative ventures of Saint-Camille.

In this business, nothing is completely settled in advance. At present, despite many efforts made over a number of years, the 2001 population statistics still show a small decline. The community intends to pour energy into continuing the work that has begun. Now that the services that enable seniors to stay in their community are being provided through La Corvée, the 2005 priorities focus on welcoming new residents. Coopérative La Clé des Champs plays an active role here by devising economic activities to marshal local resources and create added value.

Saint-Camille's leaders know that they have to keep innovating, for example to find attractive models to get young families to live in Saint-Camille. Some work on these issues is being done in conjunction with the other municipalities in the RCM. Current innovations include the development of high-tech services like high-speed Internet by installing a fibre-optic connection. The knowledge economy is seen as a way of the future, a way for people to come live in Saint-Camille and forge a city-country reconciliation, an avenue that promises much for regional repopulation.

The strength and scope of the work done lies not so much in the admittedly modest size of the current ventures but in their vision, their way of doing things and their determination to stand up to the withering wind.

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