New Brunswick Command 79th Convention

November 25, 2009 by Adam Day

Financial Status Strong In New Brunswick

It was all business this year in New Brunswick. It took just two days and one quick election to set the command on its course for the next two years.

This was the 79th New Brunswick Command convention held Sept. 4-6 at Herman Good VC Branch in Bathurst and it was there that delegates confirmed Clayton Saunders as the new president, Paul Poirier as the new first vice, and elected Rick Love as second vice.

Bathurst is a picturesque town of about 13,000 on the inward edge of Chaleur Bay on Canada’s Atlantic coast, a place which Mayor Stephen Brunet identified as the “centre of northern New Brunswick.”

After a brief but very well-attended reception hosted by New Brunswick Command President Mavis Cooper on Friday night, the convention began in earnest early on Saturday at the branch with a brief greeting from the Dominion Command representative, Honorary Grand President Charles Belzile, who noted that “on behalf of Dominion President Wilf Edmond and all of Dominion Command, we wish you success in this convention.”

It wasn’t long before Belzile declared the convention officially opened and Secretary Cindy Saunders gave the first credentials report: 82 accredited holding 41 proxies for a total voting strength of 123. Eventually there would be 101 delegates present carrying 60 proxies for a total of 161.

Before the elections process got underway, Dominion Command Membership Head Maureen Thompson gave a brief speech on the topic of membership, noting that membership numbers are still largely falling and that issues of retention were nearly as costly as issues of attraction, which Thompson summarized as “without something to offer new members, you will not be able to attract new members.”

The call for nominations was brief and all-business. For honorary president the only nominee was Leo Johnson of Richibucto Branch, and similarly there was only one nominee for first vice, Paul Poirier of host Herman Good VC Branch. For president, there were three nominees, Clayton Saunders of Petitcodiac Branch, Mavis Cooper of Chatham Branch and former command president Dennis Driscoll of Portland Branch in Saint John, the latter two of which both declined to run.

The one big electoral showdown of the convention would happen for the position of second vice, where Rick Love of Southampton Branch, Theresa Gogan of Salisbury Branch, Don Clark from Moncton Branch and Egan Eggert of Passamaquoddy Branch in St. Andrews all accepted their nominations. Love would go on to win the election on the first ballot.

For treasurer there was only one nomination, Gary McDade of Fredericton Branch, and while Past President Tom Eagles of Marble Arch Branch was nominated for the position of chairman, he declined to run, which left incumbent Harold Harper of Havelock Branch to once again claim the role.

After the nominations, it was time for President Cooper’s report, which was honest and forthright. “In my term of office some of our branches experienced problems,” she said. “The decisions I had to make were made according to the bylaws of the RCL. I spent many a sleepless night, but once the decision was made, I stood by it.”

It was not all rough news, however, as Cooper went on to highlight several of her term’s successes, including continued financial support to the Military Family Resource Centre in Oromocto and the financial success of the military service recognition booklet.

Treasurer Gary McDade likewise began his report with some pleasant financial news. In the last two years, the command’s investments have increased from $350,599 to more than $540,000 by the time of the convention. And the command’s net worth has increased from $538,527 to $666,183.

As a result of the command’s financial health, they have doubled the number of bursaries given to students from 25 to 50 and increased donations to veterans, seniors, and youth and cadet groups.

McDade did go on to deliver what he called “the hammer.” The problem is that all branches must submit their financial statements to command office within 90 days of year end, which is March 31. and that is currently not happening often enough. The problem is even greater with new international financial reporting standards which came about as the result of the ongoing U.S. financial crisis.

Belzile detailed the bigger picture as seen from Ottawa, focusing on the idea that while times are perhaps tough, the best chance for the organization to succeed is through unity.

“Nobody ever said that being a Legionnaire was going to be simple, and the times we live in bear that out. Our economy is not doing well, and our troops continue their dangerous mission overseas with what equipment our government can afford, and our veterans continue to look to us for support, and yet we still seem to argue about buttons and bows instead of substantial issues,” said Belzile.

He went on to describe how the Legion spends about $200,000 a year in support of Canadian Forces soldiers and projects, including the Troop Morale Fund, Christmas presents for deployed troops and support for the Nijmegen marchers.

“Our veterans’ community is more fragmented than ever before…all trying to recruit members from the same pool. To combat this phenomenon we have initiated a dialogue with the main groups to unify under the banner of The Royal Canadian Legion, while none of the groups have agreed to this yet, the top 12 or so have agreed to continue discussions so that we are all singing from the same sheet.

“Are we still pertinent to the serving soldiers?” he asked “I believe we are, though it may not seem that way to a lot of us. We have a future, comrades, but it will take dedication and an acceptance of change to secure that future.”

Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson gave a speech concerning Veterans Affairs Canada’s ongoing efforts to serve veterans, which was a fine addition to the lively question-and-answer session held by VAC Atlantic Regional Director Krista Locke.

After the lunch the convention was scheduled for a short business session before closing for the day in order to complete the traditional parade and memorial service.

Before that however, Jack Clayton read the relatively dismal membership report. “We are the highest of any command in Canada for non-renewals,” he began, before adding, “We are also the worst command in the Early Bird Campaign, so we’re batting 1,000.”

“It’s clear that the downward trend is now a nose-dive in our membership,” he concluded, before revealing that overall paid membership was down from 12,193 in 2007 to 10,281 in 2009.

Next up were brief greetings from Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command President Les Nash, P.E.I. President Jim Ross and Ontario President Ed Pigeau before Saunders made a report about the sweepstakes draw. In the report, Saunders noted that the practice no longer seems advisable, as it starts off $35,000 in the hole and there are no assurances the contest will make money in the future. His recommendation was that the annual sweepstakes draw be discontinued for 2010 and 2011. The recommendation was approved by the floor and the sweepstakes was thus ended.

At 3 p.m. N.B. Lieutenant-Governor Herménégilde Chiasson gave a brief speech wherein he lamented what he had just heard, that another Legion branch was closing, because Legion branches are a crucial part of Canadian life and a vital force for remembrance. Mavis Cooper then presented him with the Legion Friendship Award.

The parade and ceremony took place in downtown Bathurst, at the cenotaph in front of the old stone courthouse. It was a dignified and well-performed event which ended with Chiasson, Belzile, Cooper and Minister Thompson climbing onto a small dais to receive the salute during the parade’s final section of march.

Sunday morning began with Belzile conducting the traditional call for donations to the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League which raised $4,072.

The resolutions report, read by Saunders, flew past in a flurry of agreeableness, with all of the resolutions, which in the main addressed rather technical veterans service issues, passed with no real debate.

After the district commanders’ reports, a call was made for donations to the Troop Morale Fund. As the visiting dignitaries circulated with the baskets, a motion came from the floor that N.B. Command also donate money to the fund. After a brief huddle onstage, Cooper came back to the microphone and stated that $5,000 could be donated from the command foundation. The floor approved this in a vote, which brought the total donation to $5,293.

With all the business having been attended to, it was time for the installation of new officers, which itself concluded with the traditional speech from the new president.

“Thank you for trusting in me,” Saunders told the crowd. “When I joined the Legion as a 19-year-old the thought never crossed my mind that I would ever be provincial president.”

Saunders, an associate member, then went on to outline his plans for his tenure, which solidly revolved around a renewed commitment to leadership training and veterans services.

“Our veterans have been and will continue to be our Number One priority, we must ensure that all veterans, including those who come in the future, receive proper care and attention.”

“Branches are struggling,” he noted, “But what can turn it around?” One problem is that “rarely do branches admit they’re in trouble. Why do you keep your struggles to yourself? Are you ashamed to admit that your branch is in trouble? N.B. Command is ready to help in any way we can. I implore you to seek help. We all belong to the same organization and we should be working together.”

Saunders then went on to outline what he believed is one of the key reasons that branches struggle. “The decline in leadership and knowledge of the ways of the Legion is a significant problem. Therefore, a training and organizational development committee will be created. They will create training material and run seminars. I am convinced that with the reintroduction of training, some of the problems the branches currently face will be alleviated or eliminated.”

The next convention will be held on Labour Day weekend at Fredericton Branch in 2011.

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