The drop in membership appears to be levelling off and good financial management has kept The Royal Canadian Legion operating solidly in the black. Still, at their Feb. 27-28 meeting at Legion House, members of Dominion Executive Council made it clear they want Dominion Command to continue working hard to build membership and manage funds carefully and wisely.
Dominion Command led by example by offering free one-year memberships to newly retired veterans, resulting in addition of 130 new members between July 2008 and the end of 2009, reported Dominion Command Membership Committee Chairman Paulette Cook. Recruitments in most commands increased over the previous year, with Newfoundland and Labrador Command up 10.64 per cent and Quebec and British Columbia/Yukon close behind at more than 8 per cent. Losses are down slightly to 11,974 from 13,165 in 2008 and 15,217 for 2007. As well, a mail campaign of lapsed members resulted in more than 600 renewals.
Dominion Treasurer Michael Cook also had good news: revenues were better than expected in some areas, resulting in a net surplus of $395,050. The positive results are due in part to stabilization of investment markets, an estate bequest, a refund from the Canadian Forces Personnel Services Agency and about $116,000 savings on travel expenses due to volatility in air fares, which declined throughout 2009.
Although supply sales declined to $1,949,976 from $2,202,491 in 2008, provincial commands’ share of the supply surplus is “still a respectable $86,178,” Cook said. Supply sales are projected to level off at about $1.9 million annually.
DEC displayed its intention to keep a firm hand on the financial tiller when dealing with expenses, tabling for further study a motion calling for an $80,000 public relations video and turning down a large funding request.
Gary Bennett, president of the Encounters With Canada Support Foundation, made a special presentation to DEC. The foundation is a separate body offering financial support to the Encounters With Canada program which brings about 3,200 students a year to Ottawa for a week-long look at Canadian national institutions such as the House of Commons, the Senate and the Supreme Court. Many, many Legion branches across the country subsidize the $625 fee to enable local youth of all backgrounds and income level to attend.
The Legion has strongly supported and made major donations to Encounters With Canada over the years. Originally created and run by the Canadian Unity Council, the program is now owned and operated by the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Bennett presented a request for $40,000 in annual funding to the Encounters With Canada Support Foundation from Dominion Command. However, DEC declined the request, but First Vice Pat Varga emphasized that the Legion should continue to support local students through the branches.
Times may be tight, but work of the Legion continues, as demonstrated in the report of the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee. Dominion President Wilf Edmond appeared before the Senate Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs and the New Veterans Charter Advisory Group to discuss issues related to the New Veterans Charter.
In anticipation that half the beds at Ste.-Anne’s Hospital in Ste.-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., will be empty by 2015, Veterans Affairs Canada is once again investigating the transfer of the federally run hospital to the Quebec government. Edmond has written VAC about Legion concerns that any transfer agreement should specify beds at Ste.-Anne’s be designated priority access beds as normal attrition reduces demand; that quality care for current and future veterans be maintained; that the day program be preserved; and the National Centre for Post-Traumatic Stress continue.
A reply from the former Minister of Veterans Affairs Greg Thompson indicated VAC will make certain veterans have priority access and the day centre services will continue to be offered. While the National Centre for Operational Stress Injuries is an integral component of VAC’s mental health strategy, “the physical location of the Centre will be discussed during negotiations,” Thompson wrote.
DEC concurred with 39 resolutions from the committee that will be voted on at dominion convention covering a broad range of issues in support of veterans including extending Veterans Independence Program benefits to frail veterans and RCMP members; that Vimy Ridge Day be declared a national federal holiday; that VAC stop deducting $5 from repayment of veterans’ taxi fares for health care trips; that VAC communicate better with reservists regarding benefits available to them; and that Service Income Security Insurance Plan (SISIP) offsets of VAC disability pensions be terminated.
The Dominion Command Service Bureau reported first applications prepared and submitted by command service officers increased to 2,011 in 2009 from 1,902 in 2008; 870 were for disability pensions and 1,141 were for disability awards. Legion surveyors visited 3,937 veterans residing in 763 facilities in 2009, up from 3,419 veterans in 864 facilities in 2008.
Sports Committee Chairman Pat Varga reported that Ottawa would be the host of both the 2010 and the 2011 National Track and Field Championships. She said that the committee had discussed the need to plan further in advance and agreed it would be best if there were a five-year plan in place in terms of hosting the event. As a result, a call went out to all branches asking for applications to host the track meets for 2012 to 2015.
Despite an industry-wide decline in advertising revenue, Canvet Publications Ltd. finished the year with no need to transfer funds from the reserve or to seek an increase in subscription prices. Revenue generation by the launch of Legion Magazine on newsstands has exceeded costs, and direct subscriptions have doubled. The Canadian Automobile Association, Travelodge Canada, ICI Paints and Bétonel stores have joined the Member Benefits Package.
Dominion Secretary Brad White reported supply sales were down 11 per cent in 2009 to $1,949,976, and expected to plateau at about that level. However, a new webstore planned for launch in January 2011 may bump that up.
After some debate and adjustment to wording, DEC agreed to a list of minimum essential support services and capabilities of provincial commands.
Minimum services cover administration, including ability to support branches and administer by-laws; ensuring financial accountability; adjudicating of complaints and appeals; accommodating members of branches that have surrendered or lost charters; training of officers at branch and command levels; supporting national programs; providing a service officer; co-ordinating and implementing a provincial Remembrance Day ceremony and poppy campaign; and responding to public and media enquiries.
The original wording called for a minimum staffing of a full-time provincial secretary and one half-time service officer at minimum, with preference for a full-time service officer. Smaller commands discussed how they ensure veterans’ needs are met while simultaneously ensuring command staff or elected officers are available for administrative or support services.
Two motions were made to accommodate smaller commands. One states commands will make every effort to meet minimum standards “where practical,” and the other requires provincial command headquarters to be continuously available to branches, other provincial commands and Dominion Command, leaving it up to each command to decide how to meet that requirement.
A motion was also carried to ensure commands access the VAC’s client services delivery network in accordance with the current memorandum of understanding between Veterans Affairs Canada and Dominion Command.
DEC also approved a recommendation by the Ritual and Awards Committee concerning optional formal Legion dress for officers attending events calling for tuxedos or dinner jackets. Legion dress for military or formal occasions is a Legion blazer with left breast pocket crest plus one Legion lapel badge and a discharge or Canada Decoration badge on the left lapel; Canadian honours, Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation, miniature service medals, white formal shirt with fold-down collar, black formal bow tie and cummerbund (with optional dark suspenders), grey trousers, black shoes and socks. Ladies’ attire would include optional dark hose and a formal length grey skirt. Legion or military association headdress is appropriate but optional. Association right pocket badges are not recommended and name badges and commemorative or support the troops pins are not to be worn with formal dress.
The following items were also reported during the Dominion Executive Council meeting.
Poppy orders: Despite requests that orders for poppies, wreaths and crosses for the November remembrance period be placed by Sept. 15, only 41.6 per cent of 2009 orders arrived on time. Many arrived after Oct. 26, necessitating air shipment to ensure timely arrival. DEC approved a shipping recovery charge of $12 for all orders received after Oct. 26 requiring shipment by air.
Poppy sales: Due to the introduction of the harmonized sales tax (HST) in Ontario and British Columbia, DEC approved a five per cent increase in the price of poppies, wreaths and crosses effective July 1. This is the first rise in six years.
Long Term Care Surveyors: Volunteers are needed in British Columbia in Quesnel/Williams Lake, Kamloops and Victoria; in Ontario in Thunder Bay, Kenora/Dryden, Parry Sound, Scarborough/Toronto, Brampton, Kitchener/Guelph, Gravenhurst/Bracebridge and Perth: in Quebec in Montreal, Chicoutimi, and New Richmond/Bonaventure; and in Nova Scotia in Antigonish, Sydney and Kentville.
Dominion convention: First vice-presidents of provincial commands and the Tuberculous Veterans Section will be invited to attend the pre- and post-dominion convention DEC meetings as observers. Associated costs are to be covered by the commands or sections.
Legion guest house: Quebec Command reported the project to renovate a guest house for families of veterans at Veteran Affairs Canada’s Ste.-Anne’s Hospital in Ste.-Anne-de-Bellevue has been put on hold pending outcome of negotiations to transfer the building to the provincial government.
Fredericton cenotaph: New Brunswick Command reported donations from all over Canada were received to offset repairs to the cenotaph in Fredericton after it was vandalized just prior to Remembrance Day.
Charters issued or cancelled: Fifteen branch charters were cancelled in 2009; four in Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario; three in Saskatchewan; two each in Ontario and Quebec; and one each in British Columbia/Yukon, Alberta-Northwest Territories, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. One new charter was issued, to Southey Branch in Saskatchewan.