Transit group to adopt multi-stakeholder coop

MANITOULIN – The United Manitoulin Island Transit (UMIT) Group met on two occasions recently and things are moving ahead nicely. The meeting held September 10 at KTEI in M’Chigeeng had transit leader Guy Dumas reminding those in attendance that the discussion began when March of Dimes Canada (MODC) had trouble with some of their employees having transit woes in getting to work. Mr. Dumas travelled extensively on the Island for MODC asking if transit was a challenge. Of 16 different organizations questioned, all agreed that this is a problem.

Mr. Dumas mentioned that a feasibility study had to be done before a business model could be put together. “We have a lot more data now to work with,” he said.

Wally Beck was the consultant for UMIT and noted that the transit involves many stakeholders, social services, economy, the entire Island, all with various needs and goals.

Present at this meeting was Nathalie Lanthier, a development officer with the Conseil de la Cooperation de L’Ontario/Ontario Cooperation Consul (C00/OCC). Ms. Lanthier spoke to the group about her organization. This non-profit social enterprise was founded in 1964 to contribute to the development of the social economy in the Francophone community through cooperation. It achieves this by allowing cooperatives and social enterprises to consult, advance their interests and support their development. The mandate of this organization states that the COO/OCC has been the leading association for economic, social and community development in Ontario. The vision statement states that the COO/OCC makes Ontario a global showcase for entrepreneurial, social and community innovation and sustainability.

Ms. Lanthier spoke of a grocery store in Moonbeam. “It was ready to close,” she said. COO/OCC came in and the store is now expanding. The co-op is owned by the users and the community. In a co-op, each person gets one vote. Everyone makes a decision at an equal level.”

Ms. Lanthier went on to speak of the different types of models that a cooperative could follow. The multi-stakeholder cooperative has suppliers, customers and community groups. So, the provider, community members and users with each group is represented on the board of directors.

The solidarity co-operative is the same, except that it allows for outside support. This allows for funding, for start-up money and extra community support. Those offering outside support do not have a vote.

“The third option,” Ms. Lanthier explained, “is the social enterprise. To provide a service, not to make a profit. The focus is a social concern.”

“Paul Martin wanted to make this a legislative issue matter back in the 80s,” Mr. Dumas said. It was not until 2016 that social enterprise had an official definition: “A social enterprise is an enterprise that seeks to achieve social, cultural or environmental aims through the sale of goods and services.”

Mr. Dumas went on to say that, “so many community groups are involved, all with different points of view.” He also reminded the group that “we have $500,000 waiting for us.” He noted that the group is looking for implementation in January 2020. “The number one priority regarding our survey was shopping,” Mr. Dumas said, “and number two was hospital visits. Over 70 percent of the respondents to the survey were female. There are a lot of questions around safety. Communication must be established when the bus is coming and First Nations are very important. There are structures in their organization that can be used.”

The group participants at this meeting included Janine Roy, Michel Bertrand and Guy Dumas representing MODC, Steve Shaffer, representing the Municipality of Central Manitoulin, Michelle Taukai and Christine of KTEI and Sandy Cook, a representative for the Angel Bus.

The next UMIT group meeting was held September 17 at which one of the three models that Ms. Lanthier had outlined would be used for governance and business model decisions. As outlined these are the multi-stakeholder, solidarity and social enterprise models.

Also speaking at that meeting was COO/OCC development officer Denik Dorval who outlined the three business models in greater detail.
“In the multi-stakeholder model, you have to know who your members are and how you decide where the money goes. Any person or organization is included. For example, A.J. Bus Lines and other buses could be the only members. Community members could be members also as they use the service. This would be up to UMIT. It is not a complicated process, but it can be hard to have community members at the table as well as the service providers,” said Mr. Dorval. He also said that using this business model gives UMIT access to grants, would be non-profit and would have eight members on the board of directors. The service provider would only represent one board member but would have the most profit on the table.

“UMIT wants to improve the life of people on the Island,” Mr. Dorval said. “You can start small and can tell the service provider directly what’s working—grants, bus stops and so on. It stays community-driven. The service provider still has a say, but you have to make it clear about profit. Most will go to A.J. Bus Lines. A good percentage has to go to the co-op.”

Mr. Dorval recommended the multi-stakeholder model, saying, “the province or the feds should be supporting this. With this, you will have access to grants. The co-op method works better because you have the government looking at you.”

At this point, Mr. Dumas said, “I am moving towards the multi-stakeholder model to go ahead with the people who are engaged,” Mr. Dorval then said. “Community members can be added to the board of directors in the future. This project is amazing.”

After a thorough discussion and debate, the UMIT group decided to move forward with the multi-stakeholder cooperative and hired COO/OCC who will, in collaboration with the members of the Manitoulin Transit Group, elaborate a business plan for a January 2020 launch of the public transit cooperative.

The COO/OCC tasks will be in four groups including a market study, the writing of a business plan, a communications strategy and will offer ongoing support including one annual training session for administrators.

The market study will reach out to identified groups of potential users to obtain feedback on the proposed plan and their needs, obtain comments from organizations and compile and interpret data. The business plan will include a definition of the project, the structure, the leading member, marketing, operations, financial forecasts and network partners. The communications strategy has two phases. The first phase is set for November 2019 when organizations provide information about the upcoming transit system to patrons. The second part will be scheduled for January 2020 and will be ongoing with a public marketing campaign using social media, community boards, local newspapers and other sources.

UMIT will post for a position of executive director for the group and Mr. Dumas will speak with the Central Manitoulin CAO/clerk to bring the municipality up to speed on the UMIT decisions.