Embracing a modern-day Legion

November 15, 2018 by Eric Harris

Delegates meet up in Manitoba and make plans for the future

 

In late August, 928 accredited delegates from across the country assembled in Winnipeg for The Royal Canadian Legion’s 47th Dominion Convention, determined to plan a course for the future focused on expanding membership, improving public awareness, fostering a welcoming culture and, of course, working tirelessly to support Canada’s veterans.

The city rolled out its best big blue sky for the parade on Sunday, Aug. 26. Forming up under the gaze of the Eternal Youth—better known as Golden Boy, a gilded statue atop the Manitoba Legislative Building at the south end of Memorial Boulevard—the parade marched, command by command, to the Winnipeg Cenotaph for a commemoration ceremony.

Delegates form up and march down Winnipeg’s Memorial Boulevard for a commemoration ceremony at the Winnipeg Cenotaph on Aug. 26
Photo: Jennifer Morse
Senior Elected Officers Tom Irvine, Bruce Julian, Bill Chafe, Mark Barham, with Ontario Command Provincial Chairman Ron Goebel, and SEO Angus Stanfield observe two minutes of silence.
Photo: Jennifer Morse
National Silver Cross Mother Diana Abel, accompanied by Irvine places a wreath.
Photo: Jennifer Morse

Wreaths were placed by 2017-18 National Silver Cross Mother Diana Abel, Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan, CAF Commodore Mark Watson, RCMP Chief Superintendent Mark Fisher and Sergeant Major Wayne Foster, Government of Manitoba Special Envoy for Military Affairs Jon Reyes, City of Winnipeg Councillor Scott Gillingham, Legion Dominion President Dave Flannigan and Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario Command President Ronn Anderson.

Abel, O’Regan and Flannigan then moved to the reviewing stand as the parade marched to the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.

Delegates gathered there for the opening ceremony. During two minutes of silence, they remembered fallen comrades, including several named who have died since the previous convention in 2016. This was followed by the invocation by CAF Chaplain General Major-General Guy Chapdelaine. Reyes, Gillingham and Anderson offered words of welcome before Legion Grand President Larry Murray declared the convention open.

Immediate Past President Dave Flannigan welcomes new Dominion President Tom Irvine at the installation of officers.
Photo: Jennifer Morse

As the keynote speaker for the day, O’Regan acknowledged the Legion’s long-standing advocacy for veterans and said that “the resolutions you submit at each Dominion Command convention show how well you understand the issues we’re all trying to tackle.”

He then outlined some changes the government has made to benefits for veterans and families. “Since 2016, we have invested $10 billion in enhanced benefits and services for veterans,” he said. “This is the largest increase to veterans benefits and services that we have seen in decades.”

One of these services, the Career Transition Services Program, already has almost 800 veterans registered, he said. The Education and Training Benefit—which provides up to $40,000 for veterans with six or more years of service and $80,000 for those with more than 12 years of service—has been approved for more than 1,000 veterans over the past five months.

O’Regan also reminded delegates that the new Pension for Life program will start on April 1, 2019. “Importantly, Pension for Life encourages veterans to find and to keep purposeful work,” he said. “And when they can’t work, because of a physical or mental injury, we’re there for them.”

Accompanied by VAC Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk, O’Regan then took questions from delegates in an abbreviated type of town-hall meeting.

“Why is it taking so long for the claims to happen?” asked Crystal Taylor of Ontario Command. “You guys need to improve.”

“Yes, we do,” replied O’Regan.

In his end-of-term address, Flannigan recounted highlights of his two years as Dominion President, including representing the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League, attending the Invictus Games, visiting Iqaluit, and developing a five-year strategic plan.

“The Royal Canadian Legion’s participation in the Invictus Games in 2017 was an enormous success,” he said. “To support our ill and injured veterans and get them out of their basements and places they were hiding away and see them back as comrades competing against one another was just phenomenal. In Iqaluit, you see the Legion heart. It’s a totally Legion town. You might think the town has 30 or 40 members. But the branch itself has 42 people on staff!

“When I made my opening remarks in 2016, I said something and I meant it: that we have to get a philosophy that a veteran is a veteran is a veteran. And a member is a member is a member,” he said, adding “think about what our communities would be like without our 1,400 branches across this country.”

In working on the strategic plan, an independent firm was hired, said Flannigan, “to dig into all aspects of our operation. It found that we are not doing anything wrong operationally, but we were somewhat focused on the wrong target strategies. The main concern is membership, and we’re getting deterred from thinking about it. We need to do it strategically, and the only way it can work is if we do it together.”

The strategic plan priorities are to expand membership to 300,000, improve communications and public awareness, foster a welcoming culture, increase recognition and value, modernize infrastructure and improve governance effectiveness.

Dominion Treasurer Mark Barham then reported that the 2016 and 2017 years ended successfully, with net operating surpluses of $465,869 and $465,978 respectively. The 2018 budget forecasts a modest surplus of $53,259. “Declining membership numbers are expected to reduce this amount in 2019 and 2020,” he said, before outlining his “four pillars” of financial priorities: membership, the strategic plan, the Legion National Foundation and new revenue sources.

Nominations and the election of officers took place over the two-day course of business. First Vice Thomas Irvine of Hemmingford, Que., Branch was acclaimed as Dominion President. Vice-presidents Bruce Julian of Beachville, Ont., Branch and Angus Stanfield of Sooke, B.C., Branch ran for First Vice, with Julian elected. Stanfield was then included with six other nominees for the three Vice President positions: Owen Parkhouse of Morell, P.E.I., Branch; Ross Petten of Bay Roberts, N.L., Branch; Norman Shelton of Terrebonne Heights Branch in Mascouche Heights, Que.; Chris Strong of Innisfail, Alta., Branch; Marc Tremblay of Armstrong, B.C., Branch; and Brian Weaver of Capt. Brien Branch in Essex, Ont. Strong withdrew, and Parkhouse, Stanfield and Weaver were elected. Acclaimed for another term was Chairman Bill Chafe of Sarnia, Ont., Branch and Treasurer Barham of North Calgary Branch.

Minister of Veterans Affairs Seamus O’Regan and VAC Deputy Minister Walt Natynczyk take questions from delegates.
Photo: Jennifer Morse

Guest speakers were interspersed throughout the convention, offering delegates a change of pace from their deliberations over reports, budgets and resolutions.

“On May 3, 1993, my world came to a crashing halt,” said National Silver Cross Mother Diana Abel, “when a phone call came into our home saying that our son Michael had been killed while serving with Operation Deliverance in Somalia. His job with 3 Commando, Canadian Airborne Regiment, was to support the convoys taking food to the starving and making sure the planes could land to bring this food in from around the world.

“He wrote letters telling of his exploits there and…spoke of the farmers working around their dugouts during the day and waving to them. But when night fell, that same farmer was shooting bullets at them.… Somalia was his first and last deployment.”

Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent offered his perspective on the challenges of serving younger veterans. “Things have shifted in the way we look after veterans and families. Years ago, it was younger veterans looking after older veterans, but now in many instances, it’s older veterans looking after younger ones. And the needs and expectations are quite different. This is why an adjustment is very important.

“We can’t forget that the families are serving right alongside our members, and we need more programs that deal with families.… What people need nowadays is resources that help in wellness for themselves and their families. They need information, camaraderie, contact.… I think it’s something you really need to consider as you develop ways and means to meet the developing expectations of our veterans and their families.”

Canadian Armed Forces Commodore Mark Watson described some of the initiatives in Canada’s new defence policy, entitled Strong, Secure, Engaged.

Roger Nikolychuk, 19, of The Pas, Man., Branch
Photo: Jennifer Morse
Irene Burd, 94, of Centennial Branch in Calgary.
Photo: Jennifer Morse

“We are going to increase the size of our military from 68,000 to 71,500,” said Watson, “and we’re also going to increase our reserves by a net of 1,500, and increase female representation to 25 per cent. We have roughly 6,000 people retire every year…but we will reach those numbers in the next several years. Most of those new people will be put in the areas of cyberspace and medical support. This policy will enable us to continue to build an agile, multi-purpose combat-ready military operated by our highly trained, well-equipped and well-supported military members.”

In a presentation on outlaw motorcycle groups, RCMP Inspector Kevin Lamontagne and Staff Sergeant Robert Ring of the Criminal Intelligence Service Canada said bike gang members are insinuating themselves into organizations such as the Legion under the guise of supporting community fundraising efforts while trying to gain legitimacy.

“Last year, I was present at one of the Remembrance Day ceremonies. I observed some members of an outlaw motorcycle gang placing wreaths.… They were retired veterans who were part of this group. I met with the Legion’s executive to pass on this awarenessof who these members were and what this group represents. Our concern was that all these outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the one-percenter groups specifically, use organizations like the Legion, charity foundations and public or private organizations to better their public image. This is their strategy.

“That’s why we’re here today: to not have that happen to the Legion and tarnish your outstanding reputation by having a picture taken with Hells Angels at a Legion with their crest in the background. We don’t want that.”

Flannigan announced that the recipient of the 2018 Founder’s Award is His Royal Highness Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. “The Invictus Games is an inspiring movement that exemplifies grateful nations’ concern and support for veterans and serving military members,” said Flannigan. “The value of His Royal Highness’s significant achievement in highlighting and advancing the conquering spirit is immeasurable.”

Newly elected Senior Elected Officer Vice-President Owen Parkhouse.
Photo: Jennifer Morse
Newly elected Senior Elected Officer Vice-President Brian Weaver.
Photo: Jennifer Morse
Newly elected Senior Elected Officer First Vice Bruce Julian.
Photo: Jennifer Morse

Reports and resolutions took up most of the two-day business agenda. Reports and related budgets were presented by chairs of committees, including Dominion Executive Council; Veterans, Service and Seniors; Poppy and Remembrance; Membership; Public Relations; Sports; Defence and Security; Rituals and Awards; Constitution and Laws; and others. The 928 accredited delegates held 2,077 proxies, for a total of 3,005 votes.

Each delegate raises one orange card to vote at the convention. Twenty-six resolutions carried.
Photo: Jennifer Morse

Chairman Chafe allowed ample time for delegates’ questions and debates, on topics including service animals, veterans’ beds in long-term care facilities, homeless veterans, butterfly-clip centres for poppies, the Veterans Independence Program, the poster and literary contests, the foundation, membership types and criteria, the strategic plan, operational stress injury, harassment, headdress, medals, monuments and bylaws.

Many of these topics evoked passionate comments from the floor. “The question is: are we going to be allowing everybody to wear their [service] berets, or hats, or whatever?” asked one delegate, commenting on a proposed resolution to allow members of colour parties to wear their military service headdress. “On the colour party, or marching down the street, when you have umpteen other hats, you look very bad. There’s no uniformity. We’re here to promote the Legion.” The resolution was defeated.

On most of the 55 concurred and non-concurred resolutions (see page 32), the vote was clearly visible from the number of delegates holding their orange cards aloft, but two required a standing count. Resolution #310—to include the Visiting Hospice Program as an authorized special-use expenditure supported by the Poppy Trust Fund—carried with a vote of 363 for and 267 against. Resolution #321—to amend the General By-Laws to include harassment and sexual harassment as a separate complaint subject that would have to be lodged within 90 days from the time of the alleged incident—carried with a vote of 334 for and 216 against.

With business completed and after offering thanks to the Local Arrangements Committee, chaired by Rick Bennett, for a well-organized and smoothly run convention, Grand President Murray installed the newly elected officers.

“I am looking forward to working with my comrades across the county,” said new Dominion President Irvine. “From advocacy to veterans’ services, to working closely with our partners, I plan to give The Royal Canadian Legion my undivided attention over the next two years.

“My goals include three main focus areas. We need to work on the target of 300,000 members. The Going Forward Committee will bring assistance and ideas we need to move forward and ensure our continuing existence. And I want to see the day when the Legion name is recognized, respected and loved as in the past. Accomplishing these things will help solidify who we are and allow us to continue doing the excellent work we do.”

The 48th Dominion Convention will take place in Saskatoon in 2020.


Carried by convention

The following resolutions were passed by the Dominion Convention in August.

LOYALTY RESOLUTION

Members of The Royal Canadian Legion meeting at the 47th Dominion Convention in Winnipeg send greetings to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, express their loyalty and allegiance and pray that she continues to guide the countries in the Commonwealth.

VETERANS, SERVICE AND SENIORS

1. (Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee) Recommends legislation be enacted to open Military Family Resource Centres to all veterans and their families, not just medically released veterans. It further resolves that the centres be renamed Military and Veterans Family Resource Centres.

2. (VSS) Recommends that Veterans Affairs Canada enact legislation to permit Bureau of Pensions Advocates to represent veterans before the Federal Court, free of charge.

3. (ALTA-NWT) Recommends changing the initiation ceremony for branch service officers to include a statement that they will handle all personal information in accordance with all applicable privacy legislation.

4. (ONT) Calls for the position of Veterans Ombudsman to become a permanent and independent position, enshrined in law and reporting directly to Parliament.

5. (VSS) Calls on VAC to enact legislation so that if Veterans Independence Program (VIP) benefits are offered to a survivor at the time of the veteran’s death and he or she declines, that offer be held in suspension until a time that the survivor requires VIP benefits, based on a health-related need.

*203. (MAN-NWO) Asks VAC to allow those who have been honourably discharged to receive VIP benefits at age 65, based on need.

POPPY AND REMEMBRANCE

6. (B.C./YUKON) Recognizes Junior Canadian Rangers as members of the cadet organization and makes them
eligible for financial support from poppy funds.

8. (ALTA-NWT) Changes the Poppy Manual to allow reimbursement of reasonable expenses for any branch hosting any type of mental health, OSI or PTSD seminar or training
program to help veterans in need of such assistance.

9. (ALTA-NWT) Changes the Poppy Manual to include in its interpretation of “monument” a memorial wall, whether
or not it has a secondary wall function.

10. (SASK) Expands the Legion poster and literary contests to include a video contest to encourage more student participation.

11. (ONT) Provides a monetary prize for an honourable mention in the poster and literary contests and changes the designation to “third place.”

12. (ONT) Urges the federal government to recognize sunken naval vessels as Ocean War Graves to protect them against pillaging by divers.

13. (ONT) Changes the entry form for the poster and literary contests to include a statement by the student or his or her guardian saying that the student is the sole creator of the entry, beginning with the 2019 contests.

14. (ONT) Adds a statement in the rules for the poster contests to state: “We only accept entries done on paper or Bristol board.” Entries done on materials such as canvas or photographs will not be accepted.

15. (ONT) Adds a statement in the rules for the literary contests saying: “The copying or reproducing of previously published works in whole or in part, without either the written permission from the author/source or without identifying the author/source in the work will result in the work being
automatically disqualified.”

*308. (ONT) Changes the Poppy Manual to allow the use of poppy funds to support LAV III monument projects to honour Afghanistan veterans.

*310 (ONT) Amends the Poppy Manual to include a visiting hospice program as an authorized Special Use expenditure supported by the poppy fund.

MEMBERSHIP

*312. (ONT) Allows any qualified veteran who has never been a member of the Legion to receive a free one-year membership including an electronic edition of Legion Magazine.

DEFENCE AND SECURITY

*314. (ONT) Asks the Chancellery of Honours to reinstate and issue the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.

*316. (NS/NU) Urges the federal government to remove restrictions based on date and grant three Memorial Crosses to every family who has lost a loved one while serving Canada.

RITUAL AND AWARDS

19. (NS/NU) Adds a reference to the abbreviated initiation/welcoming ceremony approved by Dominion Executive Council stating that the Legion shall stand for loyalty to the reigning sovereign and to Canada.

13/C. (ONT) Allows the Cadet Medal of Excellence to be awarded to Junior Canadian Rangers based on the same criteria as for cadet corps or squadrons.

*319. (BC/YUKON) Instructs Dominion Command to strike a Ways and Means bar to be presented to committee chairs.

CONSTITUTION AND LAWS

20. (BC/YUKON) Removes the requirement for a Branch or a Provincial Command to seek Dominion Command approval
for a building or housing development project whose cost exceeds $500,000.

*321. (BC/YUKON) Amends the General By-Laws to establish a separate complaint subject for harassment and sexual harassment, to be lodged within 90 days of the alleged incident.

*Denotes non-concurred resolution brought back to the floor by a command and approved by convention.

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