An early snow and power outage plagued Saskatchewan Command’s 51st convention from Oct. 21-24 in Melfort, but it did not dim delegates’ pleasure in seeing one another following the pandemic hiatus.
The storm began just as delegates left the Kerry Vickar Centre after the first business session. Soon, some highways were closed, and about two hours before the banquet for 155 guests was set to begin, the power went out.
Provincial command staff immediately acted to reassure delegates and give out snacks and drinks. Though alternate supper plans were contemplated, they were not needed as the much-delayed banquet went ahead as planned.
Guests at the previous day’s parade and opening ceremonies included Lieutenant Governor Russ Mirasty, who officially opened the convention, Veterans Ombudsperson Nishika Jardine, Ontario Command President Derek Moore, Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario Command President Ernie Tester, as well as local, provincial and federal government representatives.
The convention came to order on Oct. 22 with 139 in attendance, including 103 accredited delegates.
President Keith Andrews ex-pressed his pleasure that no branches closed due to the pandemic.
“We have gone three years without our sports programs. This has been the reason that many members became Legion Members and several of them are now non-renewals.”
“The writing is on the wall,” said membership chair and First Vice Carol Pedersen, who reported a loss of more than 10,000 members since 2000. “Our sustainability is being challenged by changing times and by our complacency. We need to act, and we need to act now.”
Falling membership has reduced revenue, but a province-wide 50/50 draw and a partnership with FP Genetics to name new varieties of plant and grain seeds after veterans has brought in new money.
The $25,000 received from FP Genetics helped fund the track-and-field program.
Revenue from sales of the Military Service Recognition Book has dropped about 10 per cent from 2019. “This book has enabled Saskatchewan to go since 2001 without having a per capita increase,” reported Andrews, chair of the ways and means committee.
In 2021, command had $627,392 in revenues and $469,156 in expenses, due to the pandemic. The budget for 2023 projects revenue of $544,500 and expenses of $493,768.
Distribution of funds raised during the poppy campaign raised the most spirited debate.
“We have been drawing down the provincial fund to help veterans across the province,” said Pedersen.
Each branch gives 10 per cent of funds raised in the poppy campaign, to a maximum of $3,000, to Saskatchewan Command’s poppy trust fund. Those funds help offset command’s cost for the poppy campaign.
In 2020, poppy administration fees were $111,362, while the poppy levy contributed $70,481.
After much debate about eliminating the $3,000 cap and adopting a levy of 10 per cent, delegates decided to request provincial bylaws be changed to raise the cap to $5,000.
Only one ballot was needed to determine which of the three candidates would fill the two vice-president positions: Patti Paul of TVS Branch in Saskatoon and Nathan Hofmeister of Fillmore Branch.
President Carol Pedersen of Star City Branch, First Vice Roberta Taylor of Oxbow Branch and Chair Darrell Webster of Robert G. Combe VC Branch in Melville were all acclaimed.
Executive officers will serve a three-year term.
“More branches are opening their doors and regular programs and events are getting online,” after what’s been a hard few years said Dominion Vice-President Brian Weaver. “At the end of the day, it’s what you do in your community to support veterans that gives us focus on our key mission.”
Weaver reported on national initiatives: success of the veterans and family welcome programs’ one-year free memberships; digital membership cards and biodegradable wreaths and lapel poppies; plans for growing the poster and literary contests; funding for chronic pain research and funding for peer support programs.
Headquarters continues to push Veterans Affairs Canada to address backlogged benefit claims, for the Canadian Armed Forces to better deal with sexual misbehaviour and trauma, and for the federal government to bring in more Afghan refugees who helped Canadian troops. Weaver also noted Dominion had secured $14 million in federal pandemic funding.
He reported, too, that Canada’s contributions to the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League (RCEL) supports 57 veterans and 62 widows in Caribbean countries; $11,245 was subsequently raised on the floor in cash and pledges to RCEL.
“I appreciate what you are doing for veterans and their families,” said Jardine. “It means the world to me.”
Jardine said her office will commit to investigating individual veterans’ complaints about VAC benefits claims, to root out systemic problems that affect veterans, and make recommendations to the minister.
Brad Hrycyna, president of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), introduced new projects his group is working on. New pedestals placed at the Regina cenotaph tell stories of the world wars and those involved. More will come in 2023. The Decoration Day Sentries project offers people the opportunity to join military personnel in standing sentry duty at the cenotaph during the June ceremony. RUSI also commemorates one of the 15 Victoria Cross recipients from Saskatchewan each year.
Saskatchewan First Nations Veterans Association Grand Chief David Gamble announced the group, along with the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and The Royal Canadian Legion, have signed an agreement to work together in the Burns Way Project to address veterans’ mental health needs.
“Indigenous veterans have suffered disproportionately with mental health and substance abuse,” he said. “A union with the Legion could be instrumental in turning tables on this issue…we seek reconciliation and a united approach to reduce suicidal ideation and self-harm.”
The project is named for veteran Earl Burns who, despite mortal wounds, chased the man responsible for killing 11 people of James Smith Cree Nation in September 2022.
When Indigenous veterans returned from the Second World War and asked for help, they were denied and referred to Indian Affairs, but it was not in that department’s purview to deal with mental and physical injuries from service.
“We felt we weren’t included,” Gamble said. “So, we formed our own association…we should have been here with you guys…every colour of face in the crowd.”
“It is without question time to make our Legion more equitable, more diverse and more inclusive,” said Pedersen after being named president. “We will make history together.”