Report From The Nation’s Capital: Voting For Change

September 1, 2008 by Tom MacGregor
[PHOTO: JENNIFER MORSE]
PHOTO: JENNIFER MORSE

It was a historic moment for The Royal Canadian Legion, and while the groundwork had been laid prior to the 42nd dominion convention, the tone for the governance debate was set early by Dominion President Jack Frost. “The future of the Legion lies in our hands, not just with Dominion Command,” he told the more than 1,350 delegates assembled in the Ottawa Congress Centre for the June 21-25 meeting. “I want you to hear what your comrades have to say and make your decision.”

At issue was the very structure of Dominion Executive Council, the Legion’s governing body between its biennial conventions. Going into convention DEC consisted of 40 members, specifically nine members of the Sub-Executive, 26 command representatives, one member of the Tuberulous Veterans Sections and four non-voting members. The Sub-Executive members were the elected officers, namely the president, first vice, four vice-presidents, treasurer and the chairman plus the immediate past president. The command representatives were allotted by a formula that gave each command with up to 35,000 members two representatives plus one additional representative for each further 35,000 members. The non-voting members were the honorary grand president, and the chairmen of the Constitution and Laws, Defence, and National Honours committees.

The groundwork for the discussion was done by The Royal Canadian Legion Commission on Governance, Representation and Command Structure established by DEC at its February 2007 meeting. The commission had studied the history and structure of the Legion and then presented a report to DEC in February this year. DEC then decided to take the report’s recommendations to convention for discussion and final decisions.

Commission Chairman Steve Wessel of Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command had the task of presenting the report to convention. “As the commission began its task, members were asked to set aside any preconceived ideas they may have regarding Legion structure or any sense of power that some may feel is achieved through elected positions or through regional strength of numbers.”

Wessel noted that Legion membership had dropped 36 per cent since its peak of 602,489 members in 1984 to 388,584 in 2006 and yet DEC had remained essentially the same size. He said measures had been taken to reduce costs of DEC meetings but had not dealt with the fundamental issue of the council’s size. “Due to the growing expense to facilitate a 40-member DEC meeting, steps were taken to reduce costs by reducing the number of meetings from two per year to one per year, instead of maintaining the two meetings per year schedule and reducing the members attending,” he said.

The commission’s proposals were contained in three resolutions put before delegates. The first would see the number of command representatives reduced to 10 giving one for each command. The second resolution would reduce the number of vice-presidents to two from four. The third would eliminate meetings of the senior officers on their own in favour of having three full DEC meetings a year. The senior officers would only meet once on their own to determine budgets and deal with staff issues.

“With the acceptance of the resolutions as recommended by DEC you will allow The Royal Canadian Legion to proceed into the second decade of the 21st Century as a reorganized, leaner and more efficient organization which will be more effective in achieving our mandate to advocate on behalf of our veterans and to remain the keepers of remembrance in Canada for many years to come,” Wessel said in conclusion. “As the editorial in the May/June issue of Legion Magazine stated, we must have the courage to look within.”

There was little doubt that these measures wouldn’t sit well with the Legion’s largest command, Ontario Command. With six command representatives on DEC, Ontario Command clearly had the most to lose in going to a one-representative per command formula.

There were 1,356 delegates registered on the first day of convention. Ontario, having a home province advantage, had 629 delegates, only 50 delegates short of what it needed for a majority, provided all Ontario delegates voted the same way.

The seating arrangements also made the various camps visible with Ontario Command filling the seats from the middle of the room to the back of the hall, while the smaller commands were located closer to the stage.

Speaking to the first resolution Ontario Command President George O’Dair said, “We commend the work and research of the commission. We accept the need to change. However we think these motions are too much in too short a time.”

Rather than debate the resolution, O’Dair was prepared with an amendment to the first resolution. The amendment would accept the base of one representative per command plus another member for every 35,000 members. This formula would create a DEC of approximately 26 or 27 members.

“I am sorry, but I cannot accept this amendment as it is contrary to the intent of the resolution,” declared Chairman Tom Irvine to a large roar of disapproval from the back of the room.

“Are you challenging my ruling?” Irvine asked. When a loud “yes” was heard from delegates, Irvine asked for a show of the green cards that delegates raised to show their votes. Almost all the cards in the front of the hall were raised when Irvine asked if delegates agreed with his ruling. When asked for those who disagreed most of the delegates in the back of the room raised cards. The only thing to do was to take a stand-up vote.

Whips counted their sections to determine how many were standing, and it soon became clear that the wishes of individual caucuses were holding steady. The final count was 684 to 649 in favour of the chairman’s ruling.

That decided, Irvine announced he had been directed by DEC to go with a secret ballot to determine the first resolution’s outcome. Scrutineers were called in under the direction of former dominion president Allan Parks to gather the ballots marked either “yes” or “no.”

When the scrutineers returned some two hours later it was announced that the resolution had passed. Irvine then turned to the next two resolutions pertaining to governance. However, there was another challenge from the floor stating that the counting of ballots had taken too long and that delegates should vote for the next two resolutions by showing their green cards. When asked if they agreed with this, delegates responded with a huge roar of support.

When it came time to discuss the second resolution, aimed at reducing the number of vice-presidents from four to two, O’Dair was first to the microphone with an amendment which would change the resolution to reduce the number of vice-presidents from four to three. Asked whether the convention accepted the amendment, a clear majority was in favour.

With no other speakers to the motion, Irvine called for a vote on the resolution as amended. This time British Columbia/ Yukon and Alberta– Northwest Territories commands voted with Ontario, passing the resolution easily.

That left only the third resolution on governance, which directed the elected officers and the immediate past president to cease meeting as a separate body under the title of Sub-Executive and that the smaller, but entire DEC meet three times a year with the senior officers only meeting additionally to draft a budget and resolve any staff issues.

Again, O’Dair was first at the microphone. With the change in the number of vice-presidents already passed it was clear this resolution would have to be amended to correct the numbers. However, O’Dair’s amendment replaced the “Therefore be it resolved” portion in a manner that did not include the size of DEC but directed the full DEC to meet twice a year. Irvine called for a vote on the resolution as amended, but by then the tone of convention had changed. The vote was virtually unanimous. In the end, convention had voted for a 21-person DEC (eight senior officers, including the immediate past president, 10 command representatives, one TVS and two non-elected members) which will meet twice a year. The senior officers would only meet separately as necessary at the call of the Dominion President.

And so history was made. A much leaner governance structure is now in place for the Dominion Executive Council.

Dominion Secretary Duane Daly reminded delegates at the closing ceremonies that there would be a meeting the next morning of the new DEC with its newly elected officers and one representative from each command.

Email the writer at: writer@legionmagazine.com

Email a letter to the editor at: letters@legionmagazine.com

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