Are you thinking of forming a co-operative? Co-operatives are owned by an association of people or businesses that pool their resources to meet a common need. A co-operative offers democratic control – each member gets one vote. Because the business is considered a legal entity, the business structure limits the liability of a cooperative's members. It also allows the organization to acquire assets, go into debt, enter into contracts, and more.

Canadian co-operatives operate in a variety of economic sectors such as agriculture, food, social services (e.g. health care, housing), retail and wholesale, fishing, energy, recreational services, and financial (including insurance).

The following information is meant to help you navigate the world of co-operatives. For general information on business start-up, consult our sections on starting and planning.

Table of Contents

About co-operatives

Learn more about the various types of co-operatives to determine if this business model is a good fit for you.

Incorporate as a co-operative

You can choose to incorporate as a co-operative with either your provincial/territorial government or with the federal government. Your choice will depend on whether you intend to operate in more than one province or territory. Make sure you understand the rules you need to follow to remain in good standing, and know how to make changes to your organization and what your obligations to members are.

Provincial/territorial co-operatives

Find information about the incorporation process from your provincial or territorial registrar.

Federal co-operatives

To incorporate a co-operative at the federal level, you must intend to carry on your business and/or have a fixed place of business in more than one province or territory.

When you incorporate as a federal co-operative, you are also required to register your business in the province or territory where you will be operating.

If you operate in more than one province or territory, you may need to register with those regions as an extra-provincial or extra-territorial corporation.

Regulations and taxation

There are certain rules that all businesses must follow. This includes charging GST/HST on taxable goods and services if you do not qualify as a small supplier. Other obligations could apply if you undertake certain business activities such as hiring, marketing, selling and importing. The Canada Revenue Agency considers a co-operative that is a legally incorporated business to be a corporation for income tax and GST/HST purposes.

Support organizations for co-operatives

Seeking the advice of peers, professional business counsellors and associations can help you develop and strengthen your business.

Programs and services available

Discover some of the programs and services that are available to your co-operative.

You may also be eligible for other government programs. Find a list of programs from the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, as well as private sector financing, including debt and equity.

Programs for non-profit co-operatives

If your co-operative operates as a non-profit organization, you could qualify for these additional programs if you meet the eligibility requirements.

If your co-operative provides services to official language minority communities, you could qualify for funding. In all regions except Southern Ontario, your co-operative must be a non-profit to qualify. The program is delivered by several government departments.

If your co-operative is a non-profit learning organization, you could qualify to get free computers for your school.

Your non-profit co-operative could qualify for funding to help hire a youth for an internship in the field of information and communications.

As a non-profit co-operative in Southern Ontario with a mandate of economic development, you could obtain financing to carry out business-led research and development activities.

As a non-profit co-operative in Southern Ontario with a mandate of economic development, you could obtain financing for projects that can help diversify your region’s economy.

Your non-profit or non-commercial organisation could qualify for funding for projects that deliver long-term employment and economic capacity building in rural communities of Atlantic Canada.

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