Beeland, Parkland, Carrot River co-ops proposing merger

Nicole Goldsworthy
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Three northeast Saskatchewan co-ops are proposing a merger.

The boards of the Beeland Co-op, Parkland Co-op and Carrot River Co-op are asking their members to amalgamate into one larger co-op, which would be called Riverside Co-op. The name comes from the 13 rivers that flow through their territory.

“Amalgamation helps to ensure the long-term sustainability of our local services and communities,” said Paul Upton, Parkland Co-op’s president. “Through this partnership, we are able to pool our resources together to become a stronger Co-op and withstand economic pressures. This allows us to continue to provide good products and services to our members at competitive prices and remain the cornerstone of the communities we serve.”

Voting by membership will take place at the:

  • Tisdale Civic Centre Auditorium on April 9 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Carrot River Curling Rink on April 10 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Hudson Bay’s Brooks Hall on April 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Porcupine Plain Community Hall on April 11 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The amalgamation will pass within one of the co-ops if two-thirds of total votes cast are in favour. If only two out of three co-ops get the nod, those two will merge.

The three co-ops proposed to amalgamate in April 2022, but not enough members of the Parkland Co-op voted in favour for it to proceed.

Through the proposed merger, members would be able to use one co-op number in six communities and at 15 locations. These locations include five food stores, three liquor stores, three home centres, four convenience stores/gas bars, six cardlocks, one pharmacy, and three agro stores; and service a trading area of 18,000 kilometres.

“The commitment each co-op has to their communities will only be strengthened when we come together as one,” said Todd Svenson, who’s the general manager of all three co-ops due to a shared service agreement. “This allows us to remain locally invested with a strong community-minded approach that will better support the lifetime membership benefits for all current and future members.”

According to the co-ops, food store pricing across the new organization will be consistent on regular and flyer items, with the exception of dairy. This means all food stores will obtain the lower price file currently used in Tisdale.

If the merger went ahead, the first board of the new co-op would have three member each from the previous co-op for a total of nine.

Study looks at co-op amalgamations

In 2011 Lou Hammond, Ketilson Roger and Herman Dwayne Pattison of the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives at the University of Saskatchewan wrote a study about the impact of retail co-operative amalgamations in Western Canada.

The study stated that co-operatives are motivated to amalgamate by a number of issues: capital constraints; concerns over management succession; economies of scale; long-term viability; and opportunities for expansion. Concerns about amalgamations centred on issues of autonomy and control and the potential negative impact on patronage allocations.

Their findings suggest that amalgamations, for the most part, play a key role in providing services to co-operative members and in ensuring rural retail viability. Compared to the smaller independent co-ops operating in rural communities across western Canada, the larger multi-branch co-ops appear to be better able to meet the needs of rural retailers in a number of areas, including hiring managers, constructing or renovating facilities, and maintaining services within local communities. The impact on the operations, therefore, has been generally positive.

The impacts of amalgamations on member engagement and the governance of the co-op, however, have not been as positive or as explicit, it said in the study.

“For instance, the interest of branch members in attending the annual meeting or being a board member tended to decline after an amalgamation.”

Further, amalgamations represent a trade-off between co-operation and autonomy. Because at least one organization must give up some of its autonomy in a merger, some member/owners are also concerned about the loss of control within larger co-operative organizations.