Co-ops_Farmers_New Ag - Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

usaskstudies.coop

Co-ops_Farmers_New Ag - Centre for the Study of Co-operatives

1 6 F A I R B A I R Nthe movement was recognizably maturing. With the creation of the co-op wholesale, it also,perhaps for the first time, visibly diverged from its American cousins and demonstrated specificadaptations to the culture, society, and perceived needs of the Saskatchewan settler mix.P O L I C Y A N D C O-O P E R A T I V E SIN A L L O F T H I S C R I T I C A L E A R L Y D E V E L O P M E N T , the government ofSaskatchewan played a positive and supportive role that has rarely been appreciatedby later writers. The Liberal government, beginning with the province’s first premier,Walter Scott, was a powerful ally of the organized farmers and of many of the cooperativesthey created. Co-operatives fitted the Liberal vision in at least two ways: they appearedto be progressive, constructive, “improving” institutions that would help build thekind of modern, prosperous Saskatchewan that Liberals envisaged; but also — very importantly— they were driven by citizen action, not government action. Liberals generally believedin free enterprise and were reluctant to have the state do what private businesses andcitizens could do themselves. In this context, co-operatives were an alternative preferable tostate ownership and state services. This was explicitly the thinking behind the Liberal government’spromotion of the 1911 co-op elevator company, at a time when Partridge, for one,was advocating a government-owned elevator system reminiscent of American Populist proposals.Instead of the government taking it on, however, it lent to farmers, interest-free, upto 75 percent of the funds they needed to build the co-op elevator system. Co-ops were, indeed,introduced and promoted as a form of free enterprise.One of the most important things the government did was to create, within theDepartment of Agriculture, a Co-operation and Markets Branch in 1913. The branch helpedimplement and administer the province’s first general co-operative act, which was passed thesame year but took effect early in 1914. The Co-operation and Markets Branch provided reports,information, advice, and guidance not only to the government but to the co-operatives.Key staff in the branch included W. Waldron and later B.J. Arnason, one of the mostC E N T R E F O R T H E S T U D Y O F C O - O P E R A T I V E S

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