ACL president ponders decades of co-op progress in Nunavut
“I’m very happy for everything that’s happened for people”
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Bill Lyall relaxes as he stands by the check-out counter at the bustling co-op store in Cambridge Bay.
At 71, Lyall, president of the community’s Ikaluktutiak Co-op Association since 1978 and current president of Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., said he can see the results of work done since the early years.
That’s when the co-op in Cambridge Bay was little more than a corner store, fishery co-op and carving shop.
“It’s a success story,” says Lyall, who’s pretty much a success story of his own: a former MLA in the Northwest Territories legislature, vice-chair of the Nunavut Implementation Committee, and Nunavut Trust board member, just to name a few of his past positions.
In 1981, he helped form Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., a merger between the Canadian Arctic Co-operative Federation and Canadian Arctic Producers.
ACL now includes co-operatives in more than 30 communities across Nunavut and the Northwest Territories and generated annual revenues of more than $135 million in 2010.
The United Nations has designated 2012 as International Year of Co-operatives.
And during co-op week, Oct. 14 to Oct. 20, people in Nunavut might think more about the economic powerhouse that co-ops have become in the North, Lyall suggests.
Because if there’s one thing Lyall would like to see it’s that “we have more recognition” for everything that co-ops have achieved in the territory.
If you ask Lyall about the driving force behind his career and the co-op movement, he points to the seventh on the list of co-operative principles posted on his file cabinet. That’s “concern for community.”
Lyall describes how he fought to have that seventh principle added to the other six, which include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, cooperation among co-operatives, and education, training and information.
The seventh principle, “concern for community,” has seen millions returned to people in Cambridge Bay, who receive dividends from the Ikaluktutiak Co-op Association, Lyall said.
“I’m very happy for everything that’s happened for people here in this community,” he said.
The Ikaluktutiak co-op now employs 27 full-time workers at its various business, which includes the Arctic Lodge hotel, a gas bar and a cable television service.
Overall, co-op businesses employ more than 900 northerners and are the largest private sector employers of aboriginal people in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, he said.
But, due to the growth of the Government of Nunavut, the co-op is no longer the biggest employer in Cambridge Bay.
And the GN can provide employment benefits to local hires that Lyall admits the co-ops can’t afford to consider offering.
Now Lyall has a new project in Nunavut’s capital city: the acquisition of the Arctic Ventures store in Iqaluit, which the ACL takes possession of on Nov. 1.
It’s a strategic move to strengthen the co-op presence in Iqaluit, where the ACL already operates a gas bar, cable televion service, snowmobile repair shop and office supply store, Lyall said.
As for when the official opening of the new ACL-owned store in Iqaluit will take place, Lyall couldn’t say — but when it does happen, people in Iqaluit will know.
Shoppers in Iqaluit will also see a new name on the store front that will probably include something with the word “Arctic” in it, but “it will have to change,” Lyall said.
Customers will also see new co-op products on the store shelves and more Inuktitut in the store, he said.
While the Iqaluit store will be owned corporately by the entire ACL network, Lyall said he’d like to see a strong co-operative association develop in Iqaluit.
That way, control over the store, as well as a share of profits from what’s sold there ,will stay in Iqaluit with people who shop there, he said.