A soft rain of red poppies, roughly 120,000 of them, drifted gently down during the two-minute silence at the opening ceremonies for The Royal Canadian Legion’s 44th Dominion Convention in Halifax, June 10-13. Each fashioned by a Nova Scotia student, most carried the name of a Canadian Forces member, of someone who gave his or her life in the service of Canada, sometimes a member of a student’s own family.
The poppies formed a red carpet in front of the raised platform in the Halifax Metro Centre whereupon the officers and official guests stood to attention in tribute to the fallen. It was a graphic reminder of the more than 116,000 Canadians who have lost their lives in service of their country and the legions of others who suffer after leaving military service. The poppy and what it represents is why Legionnaires were there, why the Legion exists, why the work of convention is important.
The convention’s 1,075 accredited delegates soon got down to business, endorsing a new nationwide homeless veterans initiative (page 23), and a new interactive multimedia Teachers’ Guide aimed at getting Canadian military history into the classroom. They also heard from keynote speakers, including Veterans Affairs Minister Steven Blaney and Chief of the Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk, and approved dozens of resolutions aimed at improving the lives of veterans.
“There’s lots of work to do,” Dominion President Pat Varga said at the opening ceremonies. “We do what we do because we believe. We believe in honour; we believe in service; we believe in remembrance.”
“The Royal Canadian Legion really does care,” said Grand President Larry Murray who declared convention officially open. He talked about the “great history and living tradition” of the Legion and described its many roles in supporting veterans, serving military, cadets and youth as well as community organizations throughout the country. “This great national institution,” he said, “…is essential for the well-being of Canada and the well-being of current and future generations of Canadians.”
Convention began Sunday with roughly 750 parade participants, including five bands, marching through the downtown core to the Grand Parade and War Memorial. There, beneath the imposing statue of mourning Britannia, the Dominion President and Grand President recited the Act of Remembrance. Wreaths were placed by National Silver Cross Mother Patricia Braun whose son, David, was killed by a suicide bomber in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2006; the Veterans Affairs minister; Captain (N) Steve Jorgenson; RCMP Inspector Roy Doggett; Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter; Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly; Dominion President Pat Varga and Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command President Jean Marie Deveaux.
Following the opening ceremonies, the Dominion President served as reviewing officer at a cadet Sunset Ceremony and Ceremony of the Flags. She was presented sculpted busts of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh by the Regional Cadet Support Unit (Atlantic) and the HMCS Acadia Alumni Association. Sets have also been produced for each provincial command.
Delegates worked non-stop during the three days of business sessions, hearing speeches about developments affecting veterans; listening to greetings from more than a dozen military, veterans’ and cadets’ organizations as well as institutions supporting remembrance; and watching a presentation about the 2011 Pilgrimage of Remembrance to Canadian battlefields, memorials and cemeteries by Scott Briand, the Nova Scotia representative on the tour.
The Dominion President announced $500,000 in start-up funding for the national homeless veterans program and announced the institution of the Legion Founders Award, and its first recipient, actor/producer Paul Gross (page 20). She also signed accords between the Legion and the Navy League of Canada, represented by National President retired admiral Ron Buck, and the Air Cadet League of Canada, represented by National President retired brigadier-general Bob Robert. An accord was signed with the Army Cadet League of Canada at the 2010 dominion convention. More than 52,000 young Canadians serve in 1,100 corps and squadrons, said Buck. “Each of the leagues appreciates your tremendous support. Without you we would not be able to provide the programs these young Canadians enjoy so greatly.”
The Veterans Affairs minister announced that veterans will no longer need to produce receipts before reimbursement for travel expenses for medical appointments. VAC processes roughly 5,500 health-related travel claims annually, and reimbursed approximately $18 million in 2011-2012. “This eliminates cumbersome paperwork…and puts money into veterans’ hands faster,” said Blaney.
The Chief of Defence Staff told delegates that “the Legion, Veterans Affairs and the Canadian Forces are all about partnership…[working] together for our veterans and their families.” But, he added “none of the issues that we face each day are easy. Every one of our folks is different and each needs support tailored to them and their circumstances.”
The job of supporting Commonwealth veterans is not easy, either, said Brian Watkins, Canada’s representative to the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL). “I cannot stress too strongly how grateful the league is” for the Legion’s support of Caribbean war veterans. Without that support, funds would have to be diverted from Asia and Africa where Second World War veterans “are in dire circumstances such as you cannot conceive.” Many depend on the RCEL for their only daily meal.
Since 2010 the Legion has devoted $614,609 to supporting Caribbean veterans, Varga said in the RCEL committee report. Aside from helping more than 150 veterans and approximately 130 widows each year, the Legion has helped maintain and build veterans homes in Jamaica and Guyana and helps support the Bahamas Legion. More than $199,720 was raised at convention for the RCEL.
Convention also recognized the need to increase membership. With the loss of 10,936 members, final paid membership for 2011 is 332,209, reported George O’Dair, Dominion Command Membership Committee chairman. The 2011 campaign fell just short of the 90 per cent renewal goal, and recruitment was down 0.28 per cent. However, the renewal notice program has been successful, spurring more than 30 per cent of those notified to renew. The one-year free membership program for retiring military personnel has produced 500 new members and the Welcome Home Troops campaign resulted in 831 new members. Dominion Secretary Brad White reported that the reviewing and restructuring of the Dominion Command communications department, which has been renamed Outreach, will “enable us to project the image of the Legion” proactively across the country.
“Organizations like us cannot hope to grow…without a robust marketing, communications and promotional program,” Treasurer Mike Cook said in his report. Accordingly, the 2012 budget includes $35,000 for a communications and marketing audit and $50,000 for a promotional program, if required. If the public better understands what the Legion does, it will encourage people to join, he added.
The reduction in membership has resulted in fewer funds generated by the per capita tax, which is projected to be $5.3 million in 2014, down from $6.1 million in 2010. Beginning this year, Cook reported, the Legion will start drawing down on its reserve by a projected total of $2.7 million to 2014. There was no request for an increase in Dominion Command’s portion of the per capita tax. However, delegates unanimously approved a $2.49 subscription increase for Legion Magazine, after hearing it otherwise would begin posting significant deficits as early as 2013 and would have to downsize in 2015. The new annual subscription (as of January 1, 2013) is $9.49, plus taxes.
Poppy and Remembrance Chairman Tom Eagles reported about 18.5 million poppies were distributed in 2011. He also introduced the revised Teachers’ Guide, an interactive multimedia educational tool available online. Teachers can use the material to enliven lessons and students may use it for research. “The Legion works hard to encourage our young people to take the time to remember,” he explained. “We believe it will help youth understand the sacrifices made to maintain the freedom and democracy we enjoy today.”
Delegates dealt in businesslike fashion with 92 resolutions. Among those carried was one allowing, with provincial command approval, the use of poppy trust funds for support of veterans’ transition programs. Another urges Veterans Affairs Canada and the Department of National Defence to establish outreach programs for reservists. Among resolutions approved affecting Legion members was an appeals process for branches whose charters have been revoked or suspended by the Dominion President. Delegates also supported the continuation of the national curling championships by voting against a resolution calling for its cancellation. Convention also voted against having Remembrance Day declared a statutory holiday. Nova Scotia President Jean Marie Deveaux summed up the feelings of most: “I can see very quickly ball tournaments, basketball tournaments, hockey tournaments, weekends away and nobody at our cenotaphs to remember.”
The election process ran smoothly. First Vice-President Gordon Moore of Elmira, Ont., Branch was acclaimed president.
Vying for the position of first vice-president were Tom Eagles of Marble Arch Branch in Plaster Rock, N.B., George O’Dair of John McMartin Memorial Branch in Cornwall, Ont., and Dave Flannigan of Labrador City Branch. Flannigan was eliminated after the first ballot, and Eagles declared the winner after the second.
The names of Flannigan and O’Dair were added to the list of those running for vice-president, including Annette Arsenault, former Quebec Command president from Duvernay Branch in Laval; Ed Pigeau of Thessalon, Ont., Branch; and Saskatchewan Command Past President Peter Piper of Tecumseh Stoughton Branch in Stoughton. O’Dair, first elected a dominion vice-president in 2010, declined to run again. Arsenault’s name was dropped after the first ballot, leaving Pigeau, Piper and Flannigan as new vice-presidents.
Mike Cook of Surrey, B.C., a member of Cloverdale Branch, was elected for his seventh consecutive term as dominion treasurer, defeating New Brunswick Command Past President Clayton Saunders of Petitcodiac Branch and David Wells of Corner Brook, Nfld., Branch.
Matthew Connolly, first vice of Corner Brook Branch, failed to unseat Chairman Tom Irvine of LaSalle, Que., a member of Hemmingford Branch, who was returned for a fifth term.
The hard work of the Local Arrangements Committee, chaired by Dave Blanchard, and assisted by co-chairs Jack Hatcher, Pat Jessup and Tom Waters, helped guarantee a smoothly run convention, which included many social functions at area Legion branches.
Convention ended on a high note with Dominion President Gordon Moore’s inaugural address. He said he will concentrate on making sure all veterans, regardless of when or where they serve, receive the best treatment available and benefits they deserve. “There is only one veteran; we owe that veteran our strongest support.”
Moore also wants to ensure Legion volunteers are recognized for their good works in the wider community, including such honours as the Caring Canadian Awards and the Order of Canada.
Membership is also very high on his agenda. He has set a goal to increase the retention rate to 95 per cent from 90 per cent and improve the seven per cent acquisition rate. “We must be able to retain the numbers that we have to keep this organization strong and also at the same time recruit. We have to do both at the same time.
“We have to open our doors” to welcome anyone who shares Legion goals and values, though those with military connections are primary membership targets. “The reason why they haven’t joined is probably because no one has told them, including me, what a great organization we are and what opportunities we can offer anyone willing to roll up their sleeves.”
FACING THE FUTURE: A Q&A
The Royal Canadian Legion has enjoyed 86 years of success. We asked various delegates at the 44th dominion convention in Halifax how the Legion can maintain the momentum and remain relevant in the years to come? Here are some of their answers.
Jay Tofflemire, Eastern Marine Branch, Gaetz Brook, N.S.
“We have to attract and provide support for our younger veterans, such as the ones who served in Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda and Afghanistan. We have to get the word out to them; tell them we are here to support them in every which way. We have to tell them the Legion is not just here for the older veterans—it is here for all veterans.”
Stan Ciesla, Polish Veterans Branch, St. Catharines, Ont.
“The Legion’s success in the past has been based on all the veterans who joined after serving in the two world wars and Korea, although the Korean War veterans do have their own organization. Perhaps we have to do more to bring them in with us… We also have to attract more of those veterans who served on peacekeeping missions, etc. Something has to be done to make the Legion more inclusive.”
Max Peddle, Happy Valley Branch, Happy Valley/Goose Bay, Nfld.
“We have got to remain business-minded. If you are going to survive and venture into the future, you have to think about it as a business. You must get in with new technology, and you especially have to get the youth involved. Also, the veterans who belong to branches have to remain visible in the community by attending functions… We also have to have forward thinking—we can’t be narrow-minded, and we have to support each other.”
Sarah Lawrence, Carbonear, Nfld., Branch.
“We’ve got to keep the students involved with the literary and poster contests, and this includes embracing new forms of multimedia to keep them participating. Keeping the youth involved is the secret to success.”
Dwane Crawford, Cardinal, Ont., Branch.
“It is a good question and I would like to look at it from the branch level. Our success or relevance is due to the fact that we’ve remained very much in support of the community. We do a lot in this regard…community service is our main focal point. It’s tough because we are a small branch—the veterans who created it are mostly passed on. We have a small number of veterans and we rely on the ladies auxiliary and our associate members to carry on the mission.”
Dale Johnston, Cloverdale Branch, Surrey, B.C.
“If we are going to attract younger members we need to offer something different that will attract them. An example would be if a Legion teamed up with say a gymnasium or an exercise club where the younger members could be a member of the branch and have the opportunity to go and work out in a gym or something like that. I’ve heard that some of the young members are looking for a place where they can meet other people, hang out and do something different. We need to diversify…or the smaller branches are not going to make it… We have to get more creative.”
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