2010: The Year In Review

March 21, 2011 by Bob Butt

New President, New Approach

Proactive, progressive, positive and productive—key words that sum up the year—and they started being used at the dominion convention by a new Dominion President.

The 43rd dominion convention of The Royal Canadian Legion in Winnipeg was preceded by a short historic meeting of the Dominion Executive Council (DEC) in Marlborough Hall of the Marlborough Hotel where the Legion was founded. The meeting was followed by a plaque unveiling ceremony by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada which recognized the founding as an “event of national historic significance.”

A private member’s statement was also read into the business minutes of the Manitoba Legislature thanking the Legion and the veterans of Canada.

The guest of honour at the wreath placing and opening ceremony was Wim Geerts, the ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Canada.

During the convention a number of guests brought greetings from groups or presented briefings, including Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn. Elections saw Dominion President Patricia Varga elected by acclamation. In her acceptance speech she said that the Legion needed to be proactive, progressive, positive and productive.

Wilf Edmond took on the role of Immediate Past Dominion President and the office of Dominion First Vice-President was filled by Gordon Moore. Elected to the three positions of Dominion Vice-Presidents were Tom Eagles, David Flannigan and George O’Dair. Dominion Treasurer Michael Cook and Dominion Chairman Thomas Irvine were returned to office.

The installation of officers was conducted by Grand President Charles Belzile. His replacement in the honorary position, Larry Murray, was installed by the new Dominion President and Immediate Past President.

During the proceedings collections were made for the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL) Fund and the Troop Morale Fund (TMF). Collections totalled $151,109.45 with pledges of $74,420 for the RCEL, and $45,019.93 with pledges of $6,050 for the TMF.

At Legion House during the year the business continued. The Service Bureau provided representation services to Canadian Forces (CF) and RCMP members, veterans of all ages, and their families while handling a large number of requests for benevolent assistance. Service officers presented appeals and reconsiderations throughout the year to the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and attended four Second Career Assistance Network seminars.

A formal training session was held at Dominion Command for new service officers, assistants and other interested parties, including representatives from Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), the CF and the RCMP.  It also continued to reach out to CF regular and reserve members in co-operation with the Military Family Resource Centres, the Joint Personnel Support Unit and the Integrated Personnel Support Centres with the support of provincial commands to show “We Care.”

Under the authority of the Veterans, Services and Seniors Committee (VSS), now chaired by Dominion President Varga, two Long-Term Care Surveyor training sessions were completed and the Service Officer Handbook was updated and distributed. Command service officers attended the biennial Service Officer Professional Development training session in Charlottetown, including a day’s training in the Client Service Delivery Network training lab. The Dominion President and other Legion executives conducted two liaison visits there.

The Service Bureau also monitored the Legion Housing program. (It ends in March 2011, at which time an updated Housing Inventory will be transferred to provincial commands.) The Legion co-operated closely with the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Society to advocate for recognition by VAC that veterans who suffer from ALS should be receiving disability benefits. A new policy to that effect was adopted in October.

The Legion appeared at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs and confirmed its support of the recommendations of the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group. The Legion maintained that it supported the New Veterans Charter (NVC) as a “living charter,” amended as required.

The Legion later appeared before the committee to discuss issues related to an act to restrict the sale of military orders, decorations and medals that are of cultural significance to non-residents of Canada. Despite opposition by the Legion and other veterans organizations, it was ultimately approved by Parliament. The Legion consults with other veterans organizations on a case-by-case basis when invited to appear before government committees. The Legion also appeared before the committee to discuss combat and operational stress.

It also appeared at the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs to discuss issues related to the NVC and provided an update on Legion resolutions approved at the 43rd Dominion Convention.

The Legion participated in a meeting in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue to discuss the transfer of Ste-Anne’s Hospital for veterans to the Province of Quebec. It also attended the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, the Canadian Association of Gerontology meeting and the CF Health Initiative Conference at Queen’s University.

The Dominion President and Dominion Secretary attended consultations with the Minister of Veterans Affairs to discuss anticipated improvements to the NVC which was followed by briefings and a formal announcement on an act to amend the NVC.

Subsequently, more announcements were made on the development of phased options for the payment of disability awards. The Legion also sponsored two policy statements in Legion Magazine. But in membership, advancements were also made.

Renewal notices were sent to members showing as not paid for the 2009 or 2010 membership year. The gentle reminder generated over 19,000 renewals.

In June a resolution was passed to allow provincial commands and branches to recognize years of continuous service in the Ladies Auxiliary (L.A.).  Although L.A. years of service cannot be combined with Legion years of service, members’ L.A. years can now be recognized by the placement of a sticker on the back of the Legion membership card. Another resolution changed requirements for associate membership.

The Membership Committee held its first meeting in September with Vice-President George O’Dair as chairman. The Early Bird Program’s minimum renewal percentage required to receive a certificate or seal was changed from 50 per cent to 75 per cent.

The Membership Achievement Award is a new certificate program approved by the committee. It will be issued to branches in recognition of their exemplary dedication, work, and time spent in renewing and recruiting members.

In an effort to attract military members, the Legion continued to offer newly retired military members a one year free membership in the Retired Military Member at Large Branch whose members had increased over the past year. In continuing efforts to promote membership to the general public, the membership section set up booths at the National Track and Field Championships and the Zoomer media show in Toronto.

The Defence Committee maintained a strong presence within the defence community through its membership in the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) and its close liaison with the defence department’s command principals.

Interim Chairman Randy Price represented the committee at the dominion convention after which the committee membership was revamped. There was an added representative from the RCMP and Bill Leach, a former commander of the army, was named chairman.

As part of the move to be more inclusive of the RCMP, the committee rewrote their terms of reference for approval in 2011.

The committee addressed and monitored many issues of concern such as service recognition through the resolution for DND to adopt a service pin for those with less than 12 years of service and advocated for the granting of a volunteer service medal to all of those who volunteered without limiting time criteria.

Another major concern was the reduction in monies for reserve pay which was presented to DND through the CDA. Amendments to the NVC were reviewed and supported with the caveat that more improvement was required. It was also recommended that there should be a more proactive Legion approach to filtering this information to current serving members.

Membership recruitment of current and recently retired ex-service members continued to be a focus of the committee and recommendations will be made to the DEC in 2011. Post-deployment care of the military in concert with the VSS Committee also continued to be monitored.

At the National Remembrance Day Ceremony in November attendance rose to 30,000. The Viceregal Party included Governor General David Johnston; National Silver Cross Mother Mabel Girouard of Bathurst, N.B.; the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons John Baird; Speaker of the Senate Noel Kinsella; Veterans Affairs Minister Blackburn; Chief of the Defence Staff General Walter Natynczyk; representatives of the youth of Canada, Jan Sobotka, Jonathan Brown, Michael Sullivan and Shea Goreham (the senior winners in the Legion’s literary and poster contests); and the Dominion President of The Royal Canadian Legion.

The Act of Remembrance was recited in English by the Dominion President, in French by the Grand President and in Cree by Norman Henderson.

The Dominion Command Poppy and Remembrance Committee, under the chairmanship of Vice-President Tom Eagles, met formally on two occasions. Members also reviewed and discussed issues and queries through regular electronic meetings to ensure that issues were dealt with in a timely manner.

The annual Poppy Campaign continued to be most important and the First Poppy Presentation to the Governor General was held in October with similar ceremonial launches in each provincial command.

The literary and poster contests were well supported by branches and commands, and approximately 100,000 students submitted entries for 2010.

The committee conducted a review of the Poppy Manual for required and recommended amendments and updates and a revised Poppy Manual will be available in early 2011.

Four situations prompted legal action as companies or individuals did not comply with a request to voluntarily cease their poppy trademark infringement. Dominion Command has also recently signed an updated Letter of Agreement with VAC to cover the Canada Remembers Program use of the poppy image.

Each November, the recipients of the Legion’s Outstanding Sea, Army and Air Cadet of the Year travel to Ottawa as guests of the Legion to participate in commemorative events and serve as wreath bearers for the Viceregal Party in the National Remembrance Day Ceremony. The outstanding cadets this year were:  sea cadet Nadine Kelly, army cadet Ashley Linehan and air cadet Sadiq Valliani.

Encounters With Canada conducts its Canada Remembers theme week, sponsored by VAC, during Remembrance Week, with 150 youth and supervisors from all provinces participating. The committee accepted an invitation to speak to the group about remembrance and the poppy. But that wasn’t the only Legion commitment to youth.

The 2010 Legion Canadian Youth Track and Field Championships took place at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility in Ottawa under the watchful eye of new Sports Committee Chairman David Flannigan. There were 318 Legion sponsored athletes, 33 chaperones and 25 coaches representing all 10 commands. In addition there were 510 open category athletes. A candlelight vigil was held for the visiting Legion athletes on the evening of Aug. 5 at the National War Memorial.

Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David C. Onley officially opened the games. The closing banquet was hosted at the Cartier Square Drill Hall with Warrant Officer Willy MacDonald, a Vimy Award recipient, as the guest speaker.

The meet was conducted, for the first time, over a three-day period by local meet director Andy McInnis. During the competition 14 Canadian youth and 20 Legion records were broken. All but three Legion and one Canadian youth records were achieved by Legion-selected athletes. The top Legion male and female athletes for the meet were Xavier King and Christian Brennan, both from Ontario. Member sports were held as well.

In cribbage championship play, hosted in April by Sussex, N.B., Branch, the singles competition was won by Cathy Kerr from Charlottetown Branch. The doubles competition was won by Rick Walkden and Cyril Slade of Fairview Branch in Halifax and the team title went to Marysville Branch in Fredericton consisting of Roger LeBlanc, Paul Calhoun, Dean McLaughlin and Carl Nash.

The darts championships were hosted by F.E. Butler Branch in Chester, N.S., in May. The singles title went to Chester MacKenzie of MacDonald Memorial Branch in Lakeside, N.S., the doubles to Jeff Smith and Tom Vaughan from Carleton Branch in Saint John, N.B., and the team winners were Sebastien Gagnon, Gerald Hull, Jason Hurley and Kevin MacArthur from LaSalle Branch in Quebec.

The curling championship was hosted by Stephenville, Nfld., Branch in March. The winning team was from Gladstone, Man., Branch consisting of Jeff Stewart, Craig Douglas, Dwight Fergus and Jeff Mowat.

The Public Relations Committee met in September under the chairmanship of First Vice Gordon Moore. It looked at a number of suggestions made to improve the Legion’s footprint in the community, but did not put a new draft plan forward for DEC’s future consideration at this time. It preferred instead to await the report to DEC from the new marketing study being done by a contract employee for the Legion on its future and the directions it should take.

In the meantime, the Communications Department carried out its normal operations in web management, providing catalogue support to supply graphics support to the Service Bureau, the preparation of congratulatory letters, the preparation of speeches and provision of computer and phone services. The department responded to over 10,000 enquiries during the year while it maintained and improved stable computer operations.

Computers were the least of the Caribbean veterans’ worries. The Legion gave more than $304,000 in assistance to the veterans of the Caribbean in 2010 under the banner of the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, and was thanked by Prince Philip, the chairman of the RCEL, for its generosity. At its meeting in November, under the chairmanship of the Dominion President, the Legion earmarked another $300,000 for assistance in 2011. This was made possible by the record number of donations received at the dominion convention.

The Ritual and Awards Committee continued to meet once a month to ensure all applications were reviewed in a timely manner.  It recommended two new position bars for Past Officer Medals at branch and command levels and, in response to a growing number of requests, it authorized the Supply Department to produce and sell a plaque for Legionnaire of the Year. The criteria are the responsibility of the presenting branch or command.

Chairman George O’Dair was replaced by former Vice-Chairman Ron Goebel. He in turn was replaced by committee member Bernie Décarie.

The committee authorized the production of the Branch Service and L.A. Service medals created by a resolution at dominion convention. The medals are now available and the criteria for award are contained in the revised Honours and Awards Manual. Changes have been made to the Ritual and Insignia and the Honours and Awards Manuals which are now in circulation. The former includes a statement of when Legion dress is to be worn and a standard of Legion dress for formal occasions.

The Supply Department reports commemorative items were produced for Victory Day and the Korean War and sold well. Work also commenced on the creation of a web store and the catalogue work continued with a new edition being released in October.

There was some difficulty with the manufacturer of poppies and poppy wreaths before the campaign began in 2010 and some branches did not get all they ordered because the manufacturer was running low on stock. Positive steps have been taken to solve this problem before the next campaign.

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 also reviewed amendments to the General By-Laws for many commands.

With the new year came changes in the leadership and changes to the way things were done at Dominion Command. Proactive, progressive, positive and productive—the key words for success.

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