At its meeting via videoconference on June 6-7, Dominion Executive Council approved several significant motions and considered how COVID-19 will affect The Royal Canadian Legion in the coming months.
The impact of the pandemic was a common theme through the meeting: the risk of branches failing and measures to support them; the impact on membership dues and supply sales; and uncertainty over when or whether planned events in the Legion and the wider veteran community would take place.
In April, DEC announced it would release up to $3 million from the national reserves to help struggling branches in the wake of the coronavirus. Approximately $1.35 million in Branch Emergency Funds—non-repayable grants—had been dispersed to date. A second tranche and how it would be administered was the focus of discussion on June 7, and the conclusion was to direct the money to where it would have the most benefit.
Command presidents were asked to triage their branches to best focus that financial support by identifying:
a) branches that have or will close permanently since the pandemic response started,
b) branches that will be unable to reopen for financial reasons or may open but fail within three months,
c) branches that will reopen but will struggle financially, and
d) branches financially capable of reopening with minimal negative impact on operations.
Nationwide, the total was:
a) 4; b) 115-120; c) 346-357; d) 849.
All branches are eligible to apply for the funds, but only if their first tranche has been spent or they hadn’t requested support as yet. It was anticipated that in June, July and beyond, the need would increase.
Dominion President Tom Irvine congratulated provincial commands on quickly establishing assessment committees and spending the funds carefully. “The second tranche will be given when and where needed, equitably,” he said. “But not if a branch is sitting on dollars from the first tranche.”
The impact of the pandemic was a common theme through the meeting.
On April 28, Irvine wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting clarity on eligibility for the Emergency Community Support Fund. Legion branches have been ineligible for federal COVID-19 aid programs, while other businesses and charitable organizations have received aid.
“Federal intervention is needed to help branches,” said Irvine. “If we get money from the federal government, it all goes to the branches.”
(By press time, the government had not responded.)
The Poppy Manual was amended to allow a one-time special expense up to $500 per branch to purchase personal protective equipment, such as touchless hand-sanitizing stations, for the protection of veterans in the branch.
The supply department is offering branches non-medical masks at cost ($6.50) to sell for $10. And the Legion is sending one free mask to each veteran in 1,118 care facilities with residents supported by Veterans Affairs Canada.
The form of the 2020 Remembrance Day Ceremony remained uncertain. Physical distancing and other pandemic-related limitations were expected to affect the ceremony as well as the Poppy Campaign. A team at Legion House had been assigned to investigate alternative measures.
Danny Martin, Director of Corporate Services, reported that in-person poppy distribution will depend on local health restrictions and that National Headquarters is working with Remembrance Day partners—VAC, Canadian Armed Forces, City of Ottawa, National Capital Commission, police, choirs and others—to prepare for three scenarios: a) a full, tradition ceremony b) a traditional ceremony with certain elements reduced c) a virtual ceremony.
The latter “won’t be implemented until necessary,” said Martin. “No one wants that.”
Dominion Treasurer Mark Barham reported that Dominion Command ended 2019 with a surplus of $135,077, which is $83,821 more than budgeted. (The 2018 surplus was $277,165.) With travel and national sports events cancelled in 2020 and Dominion convention postponed to 2021, expense savings are expected, but will be offset by a forecasted five per cent drop in membership revenue. To counter that, the Dominion Command marketing budget for 2020 was increased by $140,000, to be spent on increased efforts to encourage new memberships and renewals: specifically, more ads—for renewals and the MemberPerks group discount program—online and in print.
Membership Committee chair Bruce Julian tabled a recommendation that new members wishing to join the Legion via the online portal be offered the choice of joining any branch directly. This included a clause allowing any branch to opt out.
Julian said membership growth online has been moderate, largely because most applicants want an opportunity to join a local branch, but the current online system assigns them to the Dominion Branch. (They can bring their membership number to a local branch and request a transfer later.) Seventy-five per cent of applicants (7,400 people in 2019) cancel their online application process when they see it is for Dominion Command and not a local branch.
The opt-out feature was debated: excluding it would demonstrate national solidarity and branches would still screen applicants as usual; including it would improve the odds of the motion passing at Dominion convention in 2021. It was removed and the motion carried.
“This motion should have been done years ago,” said Past President Dave Flannigan. “It gives the option of joining any branch across Canada online, wherever you live.”
Angus Stanfield, chair of the Poppy and Remembrance Committee, tabled a recommendation calling for revenue from donations to the Digital Poppy to go to the Legion National Foundation so that donors can receive tax receipts.
A vigorous debate followed, with proponents arguing it would enhance donations and help both the RCL and the Foundation. Those opposed argued it would challenge the viability of the RCL, raise questions about how those funds would be administered, and lead to complaints that Digital Poppy proceeds don’t go to local branches. The motion was defeated 13-6 in an individually counted vote. But that wasn’t the end of the issue.
In light of overnight e-mails and ruminations, DEC chair Bill Chafe allowed the motion to be reintroduced for reconsideration (which is permitted within the same meeting).
This time, discussion centred on how the RCL would control the use of poppy fund monies once Digital Poppy revenue arrives at the Foundation. DEC was assured this would not split the poppy fund into two elements and that it would increase funds raised for it. The motion carried 12-6 (with one abstention), again in an individually counted vote.
As chair of the Veterans, Services and Seniors Committee, Julian asked DEC to approve the distribution of the RCL’s Action Plan to Prevent and Eradicate Veterans’ Homelessness “Leave the Streets Behind” 2020-2025.
The plan’s guidelines are not mandatory, but were developed as a guide either to adopt or to complement already existing Leave the Streets Behind programs within commands. (VAC’s draft national veterans’ homeless strategy, Coming Home—A Strategy to Prevent and End Veteran Homeless in Canada, has not been approved to date.) The motion carried.
DEC also ratified another $100,000 from the poppy fund for the second of three years of funding for Project Trauma Support (PTS), a program designed for those living with PTSD, including moral injury. The funds are to be released post COVID-19, when PTS resumes its cohorts. (Twenty serving members/veterans attended the 2019 cohort.)
DEC considered a proposal to become a strategic partner with BridgeClimb Montreal in its initiative to establish a tourism attraction on the Jacques Cartier Bridge across the Saint Lawrence River. The company guides guests who climb bridge structures safely. The company operates three other bridge-climbing attractions, in Sydney and Brisbane in Australia and in Auckland, New Zealand. Safety, liability and insurance concerns won the debate, and the proposal was declined.
Under new business, a request came forward for the RCL to
support the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA). Due to the pandemic, RNZRSA had to cancel its Anzac Day commemoration on April 25 and its 2020 Poppy Day appeal, which funds essential benevolent care for veterans. (The 2018 New Zealand Poppy Day appeal raised $1.7 million.) DEC unanimously carried a motion to provide $250,000 from the poppy fund to support RNZRSA’s 2020 Poppy Day appeal.