Legislation providing for the incorporation of co-operatives dates back to 1930. The co-operative movement in Saskatchewan began to gain momentum in the 1920s, and it was deemed that legislation to facilitate the self-help goals of people with mutual economic and social interests was desirable. Unlike the United States, there was virtually no tradition in Saskatchewan, or indeed in Canada, of unincorporated co-operative organizations. Thus, the advent of law allowing independent corporate status to co-operatives marked the beginning of the major development of co-operatives in the province. There were numerous acts which provided the necessary legal machinery to incorporate co-operatives. They can be divided into three categories.
The first category of legislation was designed to enable and regulate co-operatives engaged in many general economic activities. The most general of these acts was the Co-operative Associations Act; and the slightly more focused were the Co-operative Marketing Association Act and, later, the Co-operative Production Associations Act. Ultimately these three acts were folded into one: the Co-operative Associations Act.
The second category of co-operative legislation was directed to financial co-operatives, primarily credit unions. These included the Credit Union Act and the Co-operative Guarantee Act. The Credit Union Act, in addition to enabling the incorporation of credit unions, contained a high degree of regulatory provisions appropriate to control organizations which were the trustees of peoples’ savings. The earlier general co-operative legislation was also quite regulatory compared to current-day legislation, but still fell far short of the control mechanisms in credit union legislation, which is similar to banking legislation.
The third category of Saskatchewan co-operative legislation was composed of acts passed to incorporate specific co-operatives. Saskatchewan passed more specific co-operative legislation than any other province; the most notable of this category was legislation to specifically incorporate the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Federated Co-operatives. Other examples include an Act to Incorporate Canadian Co-operative Implements Ltd. and the Consumer’s Co-operative Refineries Act.
The activity of the Saskatchewan legislature surrounding co-operatives in the past seventy-five years has been impressive. It was the result both of responding to the needs and desires of the people of Saskatchewan, and of the government of the province taking a leadership role in the encouragement and development of co-operatives.