Quebec Command 53rd Convention

July 22, 2009 by Sharon Adams

Service The Focus At Quebec Convention

After three conventions marked by massive change, controversy and election upsets, peace reigned at the 53rd Quebec Command convention May 15-17 in Granby.

“These three days should be three days of comradeship,” said outgoing Quebec Command President Annette Arsenault, a message echoed by Dominion First Vice President Pat Varga, bringing greetings on behalf of Dominion President Wilf Edmond.

Varga began by asking Second World War veterans to stand; then, one by one, she brought to their feet veterans of the Korean War, the Gulf War, peacekeepers, veterans of peacetime service, reservists or militia members, Afghanistan veterans and associate members.

The unilingual Varga, from Coleville Branch in Saskatchewan, took the issue of French-English relations head-on. “We are comrades all,” she said. “We all speak the language of Legion.” She urged members to “put individual feelings aside and work for the betterment of all.”

She told delegates times may be tough, but “we are the best at providing veterans services, remembrance and community service. We can’t always give money, but we always give service.”

President Arsenault said in her report to convention that Quebec Command faces the same problems as every other command, with membership declining, branches folding and financial problems. Five branches folded and one branch was put under trusteeship, its executive dismissed. The new executive revived the branch, which subsequently grew from 48 members to 165 before the trusteeship was lifted.

There are also difficulties keeping branch executives together as experienced members give up positions due to health problems or aging, and sometimes those who take over do not have the experience to see them through hardships.

Evolving needs of veterans has sparked a request to change a command project midway through fundraising. Michel Daoust, director of Ste. Anne’s Hospital Foundation requested a change to original plans for The Royal Canadian Legion Veterans Guest House Project. At the 2005 convention, Quebec Command volunteered to raise $650,000 to finance the new guest house, projected to be under construction by this year. So far $357,000 has been collected.

At the time, Daoust explained, the need to accommodate visitors was dramatically increasing, and expected to continue to do so after the opening of the residential treatment clinic for operational stress injuries (OSIs). But things have since changed. As Second World War and Korean War veterans receiving geriatric care have aged, so have their spouses, many of whom no longer travel. Their smaller numbers can now be accommodated on nursing units. As well, opening of operational stress injury clinics by Veterans Affairs Canada across the country has reduced the load on Ste. Anne’s Hospital.

“Sometimes, you have to…adapt to the changing realities of our world,” Daoust said, requesting that funds already collected be put to different uses. Instead of building a new guest facility, Legion funds could be used to renovate the existing guest house, which would be renamed The Royal Canadian Legion Veterans Guest House. Some funds would also be used in the OSI clinic to provide adaptive furniture, equipment and materials. Legion contribution would be acknowledged through installations named in its honour. Further fundraising would not be necessary.

The provincial executive will consider the request at its first meeting following convention.

The mid-morning parade was splendid. Delegates bused to Granby Branch got into formation with the 34th Brigade band and marched to the Dufferin Street Cenotaph, where wreaths were placed by Madeleine Paradis on behalf of mothers and widows, Dominion Chairman Tom Irvine for the government of Canada, Charlotte Bastien from Veterans Affairs Canada, Member of the National Assembly Francois Bonnardel, Marcel Mondoux on behalf of Grandby, Paulette Cook on behalf of the Canadian Armed Forces, Dominion First Vice Pat Varga, Quebec Command President Annette Arsenault and Granby Branch President Georgette Remillard.

Delegates were able to enjoy several meals and entertainment at the branch, thanks to the work of the Local Arrangements Committee, headed by Daniel Renaud.

Saturday afternoon delegates rolled up their sleeves and were all business in the convention hall at Hotel Castel Spa and Confort. Treasurer Francis Baddeley reported Quebec Command is operating in the black, but Howard Tyers, chairman of the Membership Committee, reported membership was down 10.46 per cent to 14,591 in April from 16,295 in 2008.

Although Quebec reports the lowest percentage of lost members among the provinces, membership is still “an urgent concern.” About 50 per cent of members are between 65 and 75 years old, and only six per cent are aged 19 to 39. “Membership continues to be this organization’s biggest obstacle,” he said. District commanders reported difficulties recruiting and retaining members.

Robert Groulx, chairman of the Provincial Planning Committee, asked district commanders to include in future reports more information about branch activities (membership, results of poppy campaigns, etc.). Such information will help identify where and how to help branches, he said.

Dominion Vice-President Paulette Cook, who is Quebec Command’s immediate past president, reported on her participation in Canadian Forces Show Tour to Afghanistan in the fall of 2008.

She rode in a tank, was lectured on how to spot improvised explosive devices, visited the Canadian-run hospital and experienced two rocket attacks. Her 5 1/2 days in Kandahar were “exhilarating and educational.” The highlight was socializing with soldiers, who thanked the Legion for giving them “a little piece of home” in the Tim Hortons gift certificates distributed by The Royal Canadian Legion Troop Morale Fund. (The fund had collected $444,870 to April 29, and sent 220,000 certificates to troops serving in Afghanistan, Varga had earlier reported.)

While visiting International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, where about 100 Canadians serve, a roadside bomb killed a half a dozen local residents.

Still, she returned with positive memories. “It’s nice to see the good things being done” in supporting schools, providing medical treatment, helping people in need. Before she left, she was presented with a donation to the Legion from poppy sales to troops during Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Remarks by Brigadier-General Guy Laroche, commander of Quebec Area and Joint Task Force East, also brought home to convention delegates the importance of Legion efforts in maintaining troop morale. Troops are appreciative of coffee and doughnut certificates, of chairs, of French-language books and T-shirts with French slogans.

Elections also went smoothly. Robert Groulx of St. Francis Valley Branch in East Angus was acclaimed president, after outgoing president Arsenault of Duvernay Branch in Laval declined to run.

Vice-President Margot Arsenault of Frontenac Branch in Montreal was acclaimed first vice after St. Laurent District Commander Réal Donati declined nomination. Treasurer Francis Baddeley of Pointe St.-Charles Branch in Montreal was acclaimed for a fourth term.

Vice-President Jean-Robert Pépin of Citadelle Branch in Quebec City was acclaimed chairman after incumbent Bill Allan declined nomination, saying now that he’s in his eighties, it’s time to pass the torch.

Only one ballot was required to elect vice-presidents. Incumbent Norman Shelton of Terrebonne Heights Branch in Mascouche Heights, a former command president, was re-elected. Also elected as vice-presidents were Carol Aubin-Lalonde of Norris Branch in Gatineau, who is also Quebec Command correspondent, and Daniel Renaud, a former president of Granby Branch and Yamaska District commander.

Resolutions Chairman Norman Shelton expressed dismay that of the 16 resolutions initially brought to the floor, only one concerned veterans. “There must be more resolutions we can send up to Dominion Executive Council,” he said, exhorting delegates to “really think about what more could be done for our veterans.”

Among those resolutions carried was one requesting the minister of Veterans Affairs to increase survivor-dependant estate benefits to at least poverty level, and adjust for annual cost-of-living increases. Many widows and families cannot obtain financial support for funerals and burials, despite the fact the estate is valued at less than poverty level.

There was also a resolution requesting Dominion Command to petition the federal government to lobby other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, as well as European veterans organizations, for support in Afghanistan. “I was there on D-Day,” said Second World War veteran Pierre Gauthier, a member of Le Régiment de la Chaudière who battled with the Canadian Army across Europe. “I think the Legion has a role to play in petitioning these countries to help us.”

Another resolution requested a change to Dominion Bylaws to allow districts to submit resolutions through provincial commands, since districts are also distinct entities.

Other resolutions requested the Legion banner be modified to replace the Union Jack with the Maple Leaf flag and that Dominion Command lobby the federal government to establish Flag Day—February 15—as a statutory holiday. Another called on the signage on the back of Legion House, the headquarters of The Royal Canadian Legion in Kanata, Ont., to reflect both official languages. The title of the organization does appear in both official languages at the front of the building.

A resolution requesting that recipients of Cadet Medals of Excellence be allowed to wear their medals at the end of the row of Legion medals was passed. “It would more welcome cadets into the Legion,” said Tom Irvine, a former command chairman.

Finally, delegates carried a resolution aimed at improving Legion attendance at presentation ceremonies of the Cadet Medal of Excellence for cadets. Many cadet corps do not invite the Legion to medal ceremonies.

Also at convention, $3,545 was raised for the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, Isobel Meikle of Ste. Thérèse Branch was named Legionnaire of the Year and Morin Heights Branch won the Sir Richard Turner Trophy for overall improvement since the last convention.

The 2011 convention will be held in Quebec City.

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