NOTE: RDÉE Prince Edward Island was recently asked to write a text on the economic contribution of the Island’s Acadian and francophone population for The Guardian’s recent “Progress” edition, which was published recently.
WELLINGTON, PEI – April 12, 2012 – As the world celebrates 2012 as the International Year of Co-operatives, the Island’s Acadian and francophone community has to ponder just where it would be if it weren’t for the co-operative movement.
More than a century ago, Acadians began to realize that individually, they had no economic power whatsoever. But when they got together and spoke with a single voice, they actually and finally had a say in the prices they would get when selling their farm and fish products. Because they tended to live in small pockets in rural communities and since they were already used to banding together to build churches, schools, family homes and barns during their popular “frolics” or “bees”, it was fairly easy for them to start working together economically.
Citizens in the community of Rustico got together back in 1864 and founded the Farmers’ Bank of Rustico, which provided the rest of Canada with a great model for today’s credit unions.
Fishermen in Tignish and in the Evangeline area also decided to band together to establish their own co-operative fish buying and processing plants. Many francophone communities also formed co-operative groups to sell their dairy products, eggs and grains. Co-op general stores and grocery stores soon followed.
In the span of a few decades, co-ops became the dominating force in Acadian communities since the movement provided every member with an equal say in the operation of these institutions and provided them with countless social and economic benefits.
MILLIONS OF DOLLARS
Today, in the Evangeline area alone, the Conseil de développement coopératif (francophone co-op development council) represents 18 co-ops that have 8,500 members, 250 employees and assets surpassing the $80 million mark.
These co-ops provide funeral services, groceries and hardware, fish processing, seniors’ housing, low-income housing, community care services for the elderly, youth employment, integration services for newcomers, cable TV, artistic development, cultural development, international development, personal and spiritual development for youth, handcrafts, financial services and radio broadcasting.
Over the years, the community has also seen co-operative clothes manufacturers, potato chip producers, rabbit raisers, heath services and tourist attractions.
While co-ops tend to provide the larger services in the community, small private businesses also make up for most other required services – from electrical and plumbing services to restaurants and garages, and from hair care and translation to home construction and carpet cleaning. Together, they also create countless jobs plus they earn and spend several million additional dollars.
And that’s only one specific community. Island Acadians and Francophones are spread out over six major communities, so one could easily multiply those dollar numbers. It would therefore be no exaggeration to say that this small group of people – about 6,000 Acadians and Francophones – contributes several hundred million dollars to the Island economy every single year!
These numbers just take into consideration the co-op and private sectors. What about those hundreds of Francophones who work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Revenue Canada and other federal and provincial departments? What about all the people who work with the many non-profit and community organizations within the Acadian communities? While their work may not contribute directly to economic development, they definitely spend most of their money here on the Island, thereby making significant financial contributions to the provincial economy.
A few weeks ago, Martin Marcoux, the president of RDÉE Prince Edward Island (the provincial francophone economic development council), provided a brief to the province’s pre-budget consultations.
He acknowledged that “In the past, the francophone community may have been perceived as a special interest group that was constantly begging for money and services to conserve its culture and heritage.”
However, he added, “Today, the francophone community is no longer a taker but has evolved into a giver. We can now contribute greatly to the overall development of our province – including from a language perspective, a cultural perspective, a tourism perspective and an overall economic perspective.”
“Our economic contribution to the province is literally in the hundreds of millions. We have a great work ethic, we work together to develop community projects and we get things done.”
The province also has another great resource that many consider not to be utilized to its full potential: the 12,000 or so English-born Islanders who have learned a second language through the French immersion school system.
Some of these people, often referred to as Francophiles, do work in a francophone or bilingual environment after graduation but many of them don’t get or take the opportunity to use their newly acquired language in the workplace.
Employers have an amazing resource at their disposal that could help their businesses or workplaces become more bilingual and thereby attract a wider array of clients. But fears and concerns sometimes prevent them from making the move to hire more bilingual staff or offering services in both official languages.
As employers’ attitudes evolve and as the Francophone community opens itself up more and more to fully accept Francophiles, the two groups will combine to make up a mass of people who have a much stronger economic impact and who will help to make the Island a more bilingual province.
Initiatives such as the Bilingual Business Advantage Seminar held March 7 in Charlottetown are helping to break down barriers and show employers that their bottom line will improve if they offer bilingual services.
CUTLINE 1: Grocery Manager David Perry from the Wellington Co-op works on his grocery order for the coming week.
CUTLINE 2: Produce Manager Claudette Arsenault makes sure the Wellington Co-op’s fruit and vegetable section is always stocked with fresh, attractive-looking produce.
For more information:
Raymond J. Arsenault
Communications and liaison officer/executive secretary
RDÉE Prince Edward Island/Acadian and Francophone Chamber of Commerce of PEI