2011: A Year of Change

March 31, 2012 by Bob Butt

It was a year highlighted by a royal visit, a special ceremony at Dominion Command and a year when change to a more progressive Legion started.

Dominion President Patricia (Pat) Varga started the Focus on the Future Committee to look at where The Royal Canadian Legion was headed and how it could get there. A marketing strategy was commissioned and new initiatives started. But throughout the year the regular committees and departments went about their work.

Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee Chair Pat Varga met with Veterans Review and Appeal Board (VRAB) Chair John Larlee, to discuss issues of mutual interest. She and other committee members later conducted a liaison visit to Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) headquarters and in June she attended a meeting with newly appointed Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney. This was followed by a stakeholders’ meeting with VAC staff and other veterans’ organizations, one of two she would attend.

The deputy chair of the committee, First Vice Gordon Moore, went to the chief of military personnel’s Caring For Our Own symposium in Ottawa, attended by more than 200 people. The Legion hosted a kiosk at this event highlighting the services offered through the service bureau network.

The grand president attended the second annual Canadian Institute for Military Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR) symposium in Kingston, Ont. The Legion is involved in developing a formal partnership with CIMVHR to ensure a credible and independent military and veteran health research capacity.

The Legion continued to investigate opportunities to reach out to Canada’s military regular and reserve force members and their families by developing the We Care initiative. It also participated in training sessions for Integrated Personnel Support Centre (IPSC) service managers, conducted regular liaison with the Director Casualty Support Management and staff and set up kiosks at Second Career Assistance Network briefings. It also participated in an information session for members of the Ontario Trial Lawyers Association which is offering free legal service to veterans.

In March, it started negotiations with VAC to ensure the integration of the Legion Service Bureau Network in VAC’s transformation agenda. This would enable the Legion to gain access to electronic service health records.

The Legion appeared at the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs to discuss issues related to Bill C-55 (the Enhanced New Veterans Charter) and later on services and benefits provided to veterans and their families. The Legion appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs to discuss issues related to the delivery of front-line health and well-being services for Canadian veterans. The Green Book (comments on resolutions passed at the previous convention) was also circulated to all branches.

The Legion continued to provide representational services to all veterans, serving or retired, and their families, handled an increasingly large number of requests for benevolent assistance and presented appeals and reconsiderations to the VRAB at Legion House and other venues.

Three formal service officer training sessions were held and the Legion also conducted two Long-Term Care Surveyor training serials for new surveyors.

Following the announcement of the retirement of Pierre Allard as director of the Dominion Command Service Bureau, the director-designate participated in both the Western and Eastern Region Professional Development sessions.

As the last step in closing down the Legion Housing Centre for Excellence, hard copies and an electronic version of Legion housing inventory were distributed to the provincial commands for retention.

The Dominion Command Poppy and Remembrance Committee, under the Chairmanship of Tom Eagles, also had a busy year. It continued to foster the tradition of remembrance when it met formally, but between meetings members reviewed and discussed issues and queries through regular electronic communication.

The annual poppy campaign continued to be the most important Legion and committee project of the year. The Governor General of Canada was presented with his ceremonial poppy by Dominion President Pat Varga and Grand President Larry Murray. More than 130 veterans attended the ceremonial launch of the campaign at Rideau Hall.

The Legion organized and directed the National Remembrance Day Ceremony on behalf of the Government of Canada which was attended by an estimated 25,000 spectators. The Governor General, the national Silver Cross mother, (Patricia Braun of Raymore, Sask., who is the mother of Corporal David Braun, killed by a suicide bomber while on patrol in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2006), the prime minister, the speaker of the House of Commons, the Veterans Affairs minister, the chief of the defence staff, representatives of the youth of Canada (winners of the literary and poster contests) and the dominion president comprised the vice-regal party.

The recipients of the Legion’s Outstanding Sea, Army and Air Cadet of the Year Awards travelled to Ottawa to participate in commemorative events during this period. The highlight of their trip was to serve as wreath bearers for the vice-regal party. The cadets and others received a private tour of Parliament Hill, the Memorial Chamber and the Canadian War Museum as well as an invitation to a luncheon co-hosted by the Governor General and the chief of the defence staff. The outstanding cadets for 2011 were Emily Hodgson of Hudson, Que. (air), Kyle Ryan of Pickering, Ont. (army) and Laura Hood of Burton, N.B. (navy).

The winners of the senior poster and literary contests were: Atalanta Shi of Burnaby, B.C. (colour poster), Tim MacDonald of Malagash, N.S. (black and white poster), Katelyn Major of St. Brieux, Sask. (essay), and Laura Rhiannon Howells, St. John’s, Nfld. (poem).

There were 26 pilgrims who participated in the 2011 Youth Leaders’ Pilgrimage of Remembrance. All pilgrims were left with a feeling of solemn respect and a greater appreciation of the Canadians who sacrificed their lives in the European theatre in both world wars.

Encounters With Canada conducted its Canada Remembers theme week, sponsored by VAC, during Remembrance Week, with some 150 youth and supervisors from each province participating. The committee accepted an invitation to speak to the group about remembrance and the significance of the poppy. The committee also conducted a review of the Poppy Manual and a revised version was published in February.

The Defence and Security Committee, under the chairmanship of Bill Leach, maintained a strong presence within the defence community by visiting the chief of the defence staff, his vice, the chief of military personnel and the commanders of the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Legion is considered the biggest supporter of the military.

As part of a move to be more inclusive of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the committee rewrote their terms of reference and had them approved at the February Dominion Executive Council (DEC) meeting. The committee monitored many issues of concern in the military community such as service recognition.

DEC was asked to approve a Welcome Home initiative to recognize the efforts of those military personnel who were deployed to Afghanistan as the combat mission ended. It was unanimously approved, and the concept of hosting Afghanistan veterans at local Legion branches was adopted.

Promotional items, to be provided free of charge to the branches participating, were determined by a team at Dominion Command. More than 200 Legion branches participated in hosting events with more than 7,000 Afghanistan veterans attending with 10,000 family members. More than 50,000 Canadians also attended these events.

Membership recruitment of current and recently retired ex-service members continued and a recommendation by the defence and security committee to DEC for the establishment of a virtual Legion network to enhance service related contacts was approved.

The Membership Committee, under the chairmanship of George O’Dair, was most grateful for this initiative, but did its own work as well. The committee mailed out more than 71,000 redesigned renewal notices. It included more information on Legion programs, prompting more than 26,000 members to renew.

More than 600 branches were awarded certificates in the new Membership Achievement Award Program based on the 2010 final paid membership statistics. They were issued to those branches that achieved 100 per cent or more of the previous year’s paid membership.

The Welcome Home campaign encouraged more than 709 Afghanistan veterans to join and the Retired Military Member at Large Branch continued to offer a free one-year membership to newly retiring military members who are not currently Legion members.

The section head attended the National Track and Field event and the Zoomer media show to attract other members. A membership booth was set up at both events to provide information, answer questions, and to distribute membership material.

The three membership reference manuals were combined into one and the new manual was designed with step-by-step instructions and completed sample forms.

The section head also received invitations to four of the provincial conventions, providing the incumbent with the opportunity to meet members and executives from various commands and branches. The committee also chose two new and different advertising venues resulting in ads appearing on the Blue Jays Baseball radio network and during the Memorial Cup Hockey Tournament. They weren’t the only ones interested in sports, however.

The Legion’s Sports Committee, under the leadership of Dave Flannigan, had their work cut out for them as well organizing the 2011 Legion Canadian Youth Track and Field Championships and the members’ sports championships.

The Track and Field event took place in August in Ottawa. The meet was made up of 324 Legion sponsored athletes, 33 chaperones and 25 coaches representing all 10 commands with a further 580 open-category athletes participating. After the meet, a remembrance ceremony was held at the National Peacekeeping Monument.

The deputy mayor of Ottawa was the guest of honour at the opening ceremonies and the closing banquet was hosted at the Canadian War Museum in the LeBreton Gallery.

The meet was carried out for the first time over a full three-day period with perfect weather and track conditions. During the competition six Canadian youth and 14 Legion records were broken, all but four achieved by Legion selected athletes. The top Legion female athlete was Julia Zrinyi from Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario Command and the top male athlete was Brandon McBride from Ontario Command. Both were presented a plaque and a $500 bursary by MBNA Canada.

In other sports for the members, the curling championship was hosted by Hudson, Que., Branch. The winners were from Col. John Bourque Branch in Sherbrooke, Que., and included Jeff Cheal, Evan Mooney, Matt McRea and Danny Comeau.

In cribbage, hosted by Chomedey Branch in Laval, Que., the winner in singles was Jim Sisson from Carrot River, Sask., Branch. In doubles the winners were Dean McLaughlin and Roger LeBlanc from Marysville Branch in Fredericton, and the team championship was won by Dermot Lee Memorial Branch in Riverhead, Nfld.

The darts championship, hosted by Col. Fred Tilston VC Branch in Aurora, Ont., saw the singles winner emerge as Jim Long from Newbury, Ont., Branch. The doubles were won by Jerry Myles and Chris Steiger from Centennial Branch in Dartmouth. N.S. and the team championship went to Stephenville, Nfld., Branch.

The Public Relations Committee, under the chairmanship of Gordon Moore, supported all of the events held nationally and internationally while preparing an overall plan for the 2012 to 2014 period. Lively debate took place at the September meeting about the inclusion of social media in the mix of programs. It reviewed its Terms of Reference as well as coming to grips with a need for marketing expertise in the function of public relations at the dominion level.

The Communications Department was also heavily tasked during the year by all committees but met its multitude of tasks. It was announced just prior to Christmas that the department would be changing and would give up the responsibility for computers and telephones to the Administration Department and concentrate on public relations, marketing and the production of graphics in support of all other programs.

The Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (Canada) Committee, chaired by Pat Varga, continued its work by granting assistance to 156 Caribbean veterans and 126 widows in that region. Assistance granted was approximately $236,000 plus medical grants, administrative grants and poppy material assistance.

In January, the Ritual and Awards Committee, chaired by Ron Goebel, published revised versions of both the Ritual and Insignia Manual and the Honours and Awards Manual.

Application forms for major awards were revised and are available through the supply system and in a computer fill-in and printable format. The committee also produced and circulated a checklist to assist provincial honours and awards committees in processing applications for awards.

A committee proposal, accepted by DEC, was made to standardize control of the Cadet Medal of Excellence (CME) at the provincial command level. The committee also authorized the supply department to produce the 40-year Associate lapel pin and the 15-year Affiliate lapel pin, and authorized their distribution in 2012.

The committee continued to meet on a monthly basis and processed all applications for major Legion awards as well as assisting the Focus on the Future Commitee by putting forth comments and suggestions.

It was a challenging and rewarding year for the Supply Department, too. It continued the development and introduction of new products in response to suggestions and feedback from the membership. The commemorative theme in 2011 honoured veterans of the Korean War.

The development of a series of Canadian–made products also reflected the culture of Canada and its diverse regions. In addition the supply staff continued to work in concert with the communications, administration and finance departments towards the completion and opening of the web store. This allowed direct sales to members who may now buy directly from the supply department. A new member catalogue was made available, free of charge, through the web store or the toll-free order desk, but members can continue to purchase Legion products through their branches.

It also supported all the other departments with the provision of logistical support, especially the poppy campaign. The Poppy and Remembrance Committee undergoes a revamp of poppy promotional material every five years. The transition this year went smoothly. The department also introduced new control and monitoring measures to ensure the reliable and timely delivery of poppy material.

The department played a major role in the Welcome Home campaign and provided materials and services to the public relations committee for deployed Canadian troops.

The Constitution and Laws Committee, chaired by Jim Rycroft, continued its work of advising the organization and its members on constitutional matters arising from the interpretation of the Act of Incorporation and The General By-Laws. The committee proposed and took action on amendments to The General By-Laws. It also reviewed and approved amendments to the general bylaws of many provincial commands.

The National Convention Committee conducted meetings with the Local Arrangements Committee in preparation for the 2012 dominion convention in Halifax. The theme chosen for the convention is Building Bridges To The Future with the convention call being issued in early December.

The Canadian War Museum acquired the 1936 Royal Canadian Legion Vimy Pilgrimage medal worn by King Edward VIII when he unveiled the memorial in 1936. The Legion participated in an unveiling ceremony of the medal with the anticipation that the medal will be displayed in museum’s Royal Canadian Legion Hall of Honour.

Dominion Command also met with the executive directors of the three cadet leagues and the director of cadets to discuss issues of common interest.

In September, during DEC meetings, a special ceremony was held at Legion House in Ottawa and a tree was dedicated to those who served in Afghanistan. An Inukshuk, built by Richard Leger, was dedicated to the fallen. Leger, whose wife Claire was a national Silver Cross mother, lost a son in Afghanistan. The dedication was attended by the chief of defence staff, the chief warrant officer of the Canadian Forces, the service commanders, their CWOs and representatives of the RCMP.

Several of the finance-related committees, under the chairmanship of Mike Cook, met as well during the year.

It was a busy year for Dominion Command with deletions and additions of programs. It even got involved in the Royal Visit to some extent. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were welcomed on their visit to the National War Memorial by veterans from organizations including The Royal Canadian Legion. As this was their first act on this visit, it was not lost on the crowd that had gathered that he placed a wreath and left a handwritten note on it that simply said, “Lest We Forget – N’oublions jamais.”

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