Members of Dominion Executive Council were asked in February to put aside personal feelings, regional concerns as well as branch and command loyalties to consider what’s best for the Legion as a whole as they heard results of the first substantive structural review of The Royal Canadian Legion since its inception in 1926.
Resolutions were passed that—if ratified at dominion convention in June—would begin a restructuring that will affect every command and branch across the country.
“I cannot stress too much the importance of this study for the future of the Legion and the future of those who are serving in the Forces today,” said Honorary Grand President Charles Belzile in his opening statement during the Feb. 23-24 meeting at Legion House in Kanata, Ont. “The latter will continue to need our support now and in the future and we, in whatever configuration we choose to deliver this support, must ensure that we will be there when they call for us.”
With branches closing and many others in financial difficulties due to shrinking membership, it’s clear changes must be made if the Legion is to continue carrying out its mission to serve veterans, promote remembrance and serve the community, said Steve Wessel in his report as chairman of the RCL Commission on Governance, Representation and Command Structure.
Leadership should begin at the top, said Wessel, who then went on to recommend that paring also begin at the top, with Dominion Executive Council.
The heart of the matter, Wessel explained, is that although Legion membership as a whole had dropped 36 per cent from its peak of 602,489 in 1984 to 388,584 in 2006, Dominion Executive Council remained essentially the same size. Council has 40 members: nine Sub-Executive members (eight elected members plus the immediate past president), 26 command representatives (based on ratio of membership per command), one representative of the Tuberculous Veterans Section and four non-voting representatives.
With very little debate, council agreed that three resolutions which would halve that number should be submitted for the consideration of convention delegates.
One calls for cutting the number of command representatives to 10. That would mean one representative from each command. Although DEC originally started out with one representative from each command, the membership formula was changed over the years to reflect membership growth. The current membership formula is based on membership numbers in each command, giving larger commands a stronger voice, but questions of fairness are bound to be raised as membership continues to decline and the council becomes more lopsided, members heard.
Proportional representation is not necessary at DEC, since its decisions must be ratified at convention and policy is made or changed by delegates at convention, which has proportional representation. As well, modern communication methods such as teleconferencing and e-mail make it possible for one command representative to bring forward issues and concerns from various constituents. And finally, with shrinking revenues, the Legion can’t afford such a large council.
A second resolution would reduce the number of vice-presidents from four to two. In the past, one of the main roles of the elected officers was to chair dominion standing committees, but the number of chairmanships has been reduced by elimination, amalgamation or appointment from the general membership. Today only five standing committees are chaired by Sub-Executive members; three Sub-Executive members do not chair a committee. Reducing the number of vice-presidents will also reduce the amount of balloting at convention, allowing the current one-day reduction in convention length to continue, thus maintaining lower convention costs.
A third resolution would eliminate the Sub-Executive Committee and reduce meeting costs. DEC meets only once a year outside of convention, but the Sub-Executive Committee meets four times. The Legion’s Act of Incorporation does not call for a Sub-Executive structure, and at times an “aura of secrecy” has existed between the Sub-Executive and remainder of council, members were told. The current council meeting schedule costs $406,000 over two years, but by cutting the number of members and eliminating the sub-executive, the cost could be lowered to $254,000 (a savings of $152,000), and council could still meet as a full body three times a year. The current Sub-Executive Committee would cease to meet as a separate body. Senior officers would meet only on full council meeting dates and additionally to draft the budget and to resolve staff issues.
Chairman Tom Irvine put the questions to vote. All three motions carried, but not unanimously, as did an added motion to have votes on these issues by secret ballot at dominion convention. A motion to allow proxy votes at convention was defeated.
Two controversial items did not receive support from the commission. First, in the face of strong opposition from commands, amalgamation would be divisive. Secondly even though moving dominion conventions to a three-year cycle would save a considerable amount of money, savings should not be the only consideration. Disadvantages include the long wait for approval of resolutions, longer waits for running for office and officer burnout, among others.
The commission was unable to complete all the work requested of it, but an approval to fund further work was shelved until after convention decides whether to follow through on these first recommendations.
“Although some recommendations may sound radical, at this point in the history of the Legion…it is what we need to survive into the future. If we don’t change now there may not be many years left in our future,” said Wessel.
Recruiting and retaining members also permeated the agenda. The subject appeared again and again in command and committee reports.
Newfoundland and Labrador Command reported retaining members is as important as recruiting them. It has investigated putting recruitment brochures in the airplane seat pockets for flights in Canada.
Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command reported it is down 1,315 members, 806 of whom did not renew memberships. The command passed out membership applications and answered questions about the Legion at a Second Career Assistance Network seminar held by the military in the fall.
Quebec Command is promoting a competition among districts for increasing membership, and continues its incentive program. Despite a 90 per cent renewal rate, Saskatchewan Command is down 784 members and has lost five branches; displaced members were salvaged by transfers to neighbouring branches or to the holding branch.
British Columbia/Yukon Command is expanding its member benefits program following success with its benefit partner the British Columbia Automobile Association. The command hopes to boost recruitment with a membership incentive program prize of two airline tickets for North American destinations donated by Fenety Marketing.
Dominion Membership Committee Chairman Erl Kish reported membership stands at 373,367, 96.08 per cent of last year’s total. But the tide has been stemmed a little, with losses slowing to 15,217 members in 2007, compared to 16,884 in 2006. Renewals were up slightly, but at 89.33 per cent, fell just short of the 90-per-cent renewal goal. Alberta/ Northwest Territories Command received the 2007 Renewal Award, and the 2007 Membership Achievement Award, ending the year with 97.71 per cent of their 2006 membership. Saskatchewan won the 2008 Early Bird Award.
Council supported a number of proposals that will be presented to convention—all aimed at boosting membership:
• supporting a pilot project to assemble gift membership packages (brochure, bookmark, flyers, application form, etc.) which members can present as gifts to friends and relatives;
• recognizing accumulated service of lapsed members with proof of previous membership provided upon reinstatement. Currently reinstated members forfeit previous accumulated service;
• amending General By-Laws governing Europe Zone members to allow them to transfer to a branch in Canada with a mandatory change of membership category to affiliate non-voting member;
• continuing negotiations to include membership material in retirement packages of military personnel;
• supporting a revamped Legion Cares program specifically designed for today’s veterans, including a $40,000 advertising campaign in a number of magazines to highlight the role of Legion service officers;
• amending dress regulations to allow veterans to top Legion attire with distinctive headdress associated with their former service, with the reservation that Legion colour party dress remains full Legion dress with Legion beret;
• amending dress regulations to allow members who are current or former armed forces personnel to wear their regimental service blazer badge on the lower right side pocket of their Legion blazer;
• creating a Members-at-Large branch for Canadians who support the Legion and its goals but do not wish to join a branch or participate in branch activities.
DEC also approved continued discussions with other veterans organizations aimed at bringing their memberships into a federation within the structure of The Royal Canadian Legion. Legion House hosted 14 veterans organizations in November to discuss amalgamation options. Dominion Secretary Duane Daly reported delegates at that meeting have taken information back to their own organizations for discussion and decisions. Responses are expected at another meeting scheduled for October.
Wearing his hat as chairman of the Veterans Unity Committee, Belzile said the Legion is paying the penalty for not changing dress regulations earlier. Former Canadian Forces members who wish to preserve their service identity as sailors, soldiers or airmen join other organizations that allow them to do so. New organizations, like the NATO Canadian Veterans Association, are growing, while the Legion’s veteran membership has fallen to 38 per cent. “Just as the Great War veterans took the initiative to bring the diverse veterans organizations together under one banner in 1925, we must take the lead to restore that unity of veterans today,” he said. “The critical point is to establish an open door to veterans. We cannot repeat the mistake that drove the Korea veterans, merchant marine and peacekeepers away from the Legion.”
Daly shared with DEC the unity discussion document developed for presentation to the other veterans organizations, which compete with the Legion for members from the same pool of veterans. Most share the problem of diminishing membership and many cannot afford to maintain facilities or support advocacy, benevolence or promote remembrance. If things remain as they are, many of these organizations will disappear.
Although it’s possible for these smaller organizations to unite in a new federation, it’s not practical, Daly said. Without initial infrastructure or facilities, development would be very expensive, resulting in stiff membership fees. It’s also unlikely these organizations will want to merge with the Legion, because they would lose their individual service identity.
But establishing a federation of veterans within the Legion structure is plausible, Daly reported. Negotiations could work out a format that would satisfy the needs of those associations to continue their unique identities and concerns about how to accommodate any such new members in the Legion organization.
The aim is to eradicate fragmentation of organizations in the veterans community, said Belzile, and bring them all together in a stronger and reinvigorated Legion.
Citing scrupulous management coupled with a little luck, Dominion Treasurer Mike Cook reported the Legion had an excellent fiscal year, ending 2007 with a surplus of $619,719. For the third consecutive year, supply sales set a new record, up 34 per cent to $2,416,043.
Directors cut expenses more than $114,000 over forecast; $105,000 in committee travel expenses were saved by using fare-saver rates; investment income remained solid at $30,000. Increased income and cutbacks yielded $526,000 in additional funds.
Although increases in supply sales, investment revenue and MBNA royalties are anticipated, the continued drop in membership is expected to erode revenues in 2008.
However, the work of the Legion continues. The Service Bureau reported requests for benevolent fund assistance have increased by 30 per cent; service officers submitted 1,749 first applications for benefits in 2007; and dozens of Veterans Review and Appeal Board appeals were heard at Legion House.
The Poppy and Remembrance Committee reported the largest crowd in years—some 30,000 people—attended the national Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa and the 2007 Youth Leaders’ Pilgrimage of Remembrance to Europe was successful.
Other Issues Discussed By DEC
Poppy Fund: DEC supports an amendment to reword the General By-Laws allowing poppy funds to be used for emergency funding for dependants of currently serving military personnel.
Youth Athletic Championships: Beginning this year The Royal Canadian Legion National Track and Field Championships will become The Royal Canadian Legion Canadian Youth Athletic Championships by including selected competitors in the under-17 program from provincial organizations. The under-15 program remains restricted to Legion provincial command teams.
Flags At Half-Mast: The Legion supports restricting the flying of the Canadian flag at half-mast on federal buildings across the country only to Remembrance Day and days of mourning the loss of significant Canadians as determined by Parliament.
Hall of Colours: The Legion will donate $50,000 to the National Memorial Centre in Ottawa to establish a Hall of Colours, providing a sign is mounted indicating the hall is a gift of The Royal Canadian Legion. The hall is devoted to promotion of remembrance and historical commitment of ships, regiments and squadrons. It will contain retired unit colours, a plinth of sacrifice to be used as a resting place for caskets during memorial service and the Chaplain’s Window highlighting the role of military chaplains.
Faster Balloting: To expedite voting at the next dominion convention, a proposal will be made to amend the General By-Laws to allow a simple majority for election of single officer positions and allow a “first past the post” system for election of more than one officer for a multiple delegate position such as vice-president.
Surrendered Charters: Fourteen charters were cancelled in 2007, four in Saskatchewan, two in Manitoba– Northwestern Ontario, two in Quebec, one in Alberta, one in Nova Scotia and two in the United States.