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General News · 9th May 2014
Miranda Holmes
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 being run by the British co-operative movement, all 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 to represent the interests of the burgeoning co-operative banking movement worldwide.

The Alliance’s guiding principles (taken 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.

On the Coastal Community Credit Union website these principles are reflected in 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, as 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 (including 16 soon-to-be-former CCCU employees). In early April, with no warning whatsoever, these island communities were informed that as of July 5th their CCCU branches will be closed and all financial services withdrawn ( including ATM machines).

The impact will be devastating – especially coming just as the tourist season – on which as much as 80% of their economies depends – is just kicking off. (Presumably business owners are expected to keep cash under their beds until they can get a ferry to the nearest branch.)

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. Coastal Communities 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 rationale for cutting services and increasing fares, 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, Gabriola will be the only small island branch left.)

The three communities are not going down without a fight.

Buried in the BC Credit Union Act is 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 last month. At the meeting itself, they were stonewalled by CCCU chief executive Adrian Legin (who seemed blissfully unaware of 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, compassion or humility. But they didn't. Instead they just instructed the staff not to engage with us.”

Clearly CCCU wanted to simply ignore their pesky resolution, but they are legally obliged to announce this week whether or not the board will agree to the requested SGM 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.