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Smaller DEC Gets Down To Business

On the chilly weekend of Feb. 21-22, a considerably smaller group of Legionnaires came together to meet as the restructured Dominion Executive Council at Legion House in Ottawa.

This was the second DEC meeting since the governance restructuring that occurred at the last dominion convention. And while certainly some disagreements remain on the governance issue, never did the conversation become strained or rancorous. It seemed to be a meeting of largely like-minded people.

On Saturday morning, Honorary Grand President Charles Belzile opened the meeting with a short speech welcoming everyone to Ottawa. Belzile began by calling for “unity” and by making it clear he felt this was an important meeting. “It is still early, under the process set up for the new governance proceedings, to expect that all growing pains have disappeared… this is healthy in a democracy, but one would hope that we will also display the generosity and maturity to ensure that the Legion remains in a strong position.”

Dominion President Wilf Edmond followed by issuing a gently constructive challenge to the meeting. “I want you to make sure that what you have to say about your commands is said at this meeting,” said Edmond. “Anyone that leaves and says, ‘I should have said that’ didn’t fulfil their job here in Ottawa.”

Edmond then presented his reports on his visits to the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans in Canada, the Air Force Association and with First World War veteran Jack Babcock in Spokane, Wash.

Vice-Presidents Erl Kish and Paulette Cook then told the meeting of their trips representing the Legion to France and Afghanistan, respectively.

For Kish, the highlight was attending, the burial ceremony of a recently discovered Canadian Second World War soldier (Ceremony In France Lays Soldier To Rest, March/April). Cook’s trip had several highlights, including the presentation of $500 to the Dominion Command Poppy Fund collected through poppy donations by Canadian soldiers in Kabul.

In provincial command reports, Newfoundland and Labrador President David Flannigan told of his command’s new initiative of Open Houses where the public is invited to see what is going on in the branches. Flannigan noted that success has been reported across the province. He said the biggest news of 2008 was the opening of a new branch in Pasadena.

Prince Edward Island Command President Alan Curtis, whose generally positive report was highlighted by the note that his command has gotten approval from the province for the issuance of a veteran’s licence plate for motorcycles.

In his report, Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command President Dave Blanchard related the story of one branch that was burned down by an arsonist. Not having fire insurance, the branch could not rebuild and had given up its charter. Blanchard then told DEC of several problems they were having at the branch level, such as complaints and mismanagement. “Most of the branch problems can be traced back to lack of training,” he said.

Blanchard also noted that N.S./ Nunavut Command would be presenting some interesting resolutions at its upcoming provincial convention, namely to change the number of districts and restructure the command as follows: reduce command executive from 25 to 13, change the frequency of executive council meetings and eliminate sub-executive meetings. The changes, noted Blanchard, will considerably improve their budgetary position.

New Brunswick Command President Mavis Cooper said, “The financial picture for New Brunswick has not been this good for years. We showed a surplus in all of our accounts for this year.”

In less positive news, Cooper told DEC the story of two N.B. branches that had been placed in the trusteeship by the command. One of these cases included a lengthy court battle and the other ended with the branch being sold to the town for $1 and forgiveness of back taxes.

Quebec Command President Annette Arsenault told DEC about some of her command’s highlights, including the visit by Ontario Command President George O’Dair during which he donated $25,000 from Ontario Command to support Quebec Command’s fundraising efforts for Legion House, a residence for spouses and family visiting residents at Ste-Anne’s Hospital for veterans.

O’Dair then presented Ontario Command’s report, noting, “Despite the events of the last year, Ontario Command remains strong and confident of its position within the RCL.”

His report stated that the command’s finances remain strong. “Through our charitable foundation, we offer grants to hospital and medical-type agencies and to our bursary program totalling $1 million per year.”

In a sad note to a generally positive report, Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario Command President Roland Fisette told DEC that their command news­paper, The Tribute, was closing due to funding issues.

Saskatchewan Command President John Pott reported that while their membership for 2008 was down 680 from 2007, he also reported that the command’s renewal rate of 90.25 per cent was up from last year, which was good news indeed.

Don Orr, president of Alberta-Northwest Territories Command, reported that his command has rising financial troubles but is focusing on forging a stronger relationship with the military in order to gain new members.

Recently appointed British Columbia/ Yukon Command President Dave Sinclair—who took over from Red Thibodeau—outlined how the command is working to reduce expenses by restructuring their Executive Committee, though success there has been elusive so far.

With that done, committee reports began with Edmond reading the Veterans, Service and Seniors Committee report. The committee recommended that the Legion continue negotiations with Veterans Affairs Canada to start visiting homeless shelters across the country with the aim of identifying and helping homeless veterans.

Poppy and Remembrance Committee Chairman Gord Moore’s report recommended an amendment to the bylaws to allow assistance from the Poppy Fund to be distributed to ex-service personnel who served on a full-time Class B primary reserve service and who completed more than 21 months service within a two-year period, and their dependants. It passed unanimously.

A recommendation to allow an allotment of the poppy funds to be used to install a lifting device in branches to allow access for the disabled was withdrawn to be reworded by the committee.

DEC decided against a recommendation that Dominion Command develop wreaths and crosses composed of bio-degradable material. The floor learned that the lifespan of the new recyclable wreaths would be shorter than the existing wreath but still a minimum of three days. Also, the new wreaths would cost approximately 10 per cent more.

Moore’s final recommendation concerned a request from the Home Hardware chain of department stores. The stores have requested to know the total amount of money raised from distribution of poppies at their stores nationwide. Various issues were raised, including the increased burden on local branches to keep this accounting but the recommendation carried.

Membership Committee Chairman Paulette Cook told DEC the overall loss was 13,165 members, considerably less than the losses of the previous two years, which were 15,217 for 2007 and 16,884 for 2006. Cook then noted that the 2008 Membership Achievement Award went to Newfoundland and Labrador Command, who ended the year with 100.30 per cent of their 2007 paid membership total.

The 2008 Renewal Award went to Nova Scotia/Nunavut Command and the 2009 Early Bird Award went to Prince Edward Island Command.

Cook concluded her report by moving a recommendation to have the Membership Section Head attend the Legion’s National Track and Field Championships held each year in order to recruit new members. The recommendation passed.

Sports Committee Chairman Pat Varga began by outlining the changes to the Legion National Track and Field event, which had opened up the competition to non-Legion athletes resulting in at least $10,000 in revenue with no downsides. She recommended that this arrangement become permanent and it was approved unanimously.

DEC also agreed to a recommendation to further expand the national champ­ionships with the inclusion of an open 15-and-under category, when feasible.

Public Relations Committee Chairman Erl Kish reported that the Canadian Forces sporting events had recently increased from 11 events to 16. The Legion had agreed to expand its sponsorship of the events and included it in the 2009 budget.

A discussion arose over a recommendation to have “an officer of DEC status or above attend each final event and dinner to present the Legion Sportsmanship Award.” The immediately recognized problem is that there wouldn’t be enough DEC officers available to perform these duties. But as it was late afternoon, the meeting was called for the day.

As the first order of business on Sunday morning, Kish’s motion concerning the attendance of past or present DEC officers at CF sports events was withdrawn and a new motion was put forward to have the closing banquets attended by “a member or former member of DEC or Provincial Executive Council.” The motion then passed.

George O’Dair made quick work of the Ritual and Awards Committee report, noting that the committee had approved 143 out of 181 applications submitted for awards.

Edmond then read the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League report, noting finances were solid but that Antigua was no longer active in the program, but would be added once again if any other veterans came forward.

As chairman of the Dominion Command Convention Committee, Edmond made a motion to formally switch the 2016 convention from Winnipeg to St. John’s, Nfld., in order to better recognize the 100th anniversary of the battle at Beaumont Hamel as Newfoundland and Labrador President Flannigan had earlier requested. The motion was passed and Winnipeg will host the 2018 convention instead. Meanwhile, arrangements continue for the 2010 convention, June 12-16, also in Winnipeg.

Defence Committee Chairman Lou Cuppens caught the attention of the floor with his report on the care of veterans of Afghanistan. Cuppens made a recommendation that the “Legion refocus on the issue of taking care of the CF wounded and its veterans. It is further recommended that a service officer be dedicated to these tasks.”

While it came to light that a Dominion Command service officer was tasked with looking after CF veterans, the floor urged greater and faster action.

Cuppens also recommended that DEC support the drafting of a motion for 2010 convention that would show support for the effort to bring back the names Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force. The motion passed.

Belzile gave the report of the Veterans Unity Committee. DEC members supported a recommendation that the committee meet once a year with the heads of Canada’s veterans organizations in order to discuss issues of mutual concern as part of the Veterans Unity Initiative.

Dominion Secretary Duane Daly then read his report, which revealed an overall positive picture of sales in the supply department. He also gave a brief overview of the damages caused by a burst pipe at the new Legion House, all of which were repaired promptly and covered by insurance.
Dominion Command Service Bureau Director Pierre Allard read his report, which noted that applications prepared by Dominion Command service officers have increased from 1,749 in 2007 to 1,902 in 2008.

With the committee reports done, DEC turned once again to the issue of governance.

A motion was passed that the Royal Canadian Legion Commission on Governance, Structure and Command Representation not be restarted. Discussion then ensued as to how exactly to proceed with its unfinished business and whether the will of dominion convention would be thwarted by these actions.

In the end, it was decided that any remaining suggestions from the commission be discarded and that any business related to restructuring be handled by DEC.

Debate then began on what to do about the contentious issue of flag dipping. The dominion convention last June voted that the Canadian flag shouldn’t be dipped. That recommendation was later clarified by the Ritual and Awards Committee which issued its ruling as approved by DEC that only the Legion flag be lowered (New Flag Policy For Colour Parties, January/February). While there were some objections to the new practice, DEC reaffirmed the procedure as written in the Ritual and Insignia Manual.

Dominion Treasurer Mike Cook read his report which was generally positive. It was approved and the 2009 budget was passed.

As the last order of business before the meeting adjourned, DEC passed a motion that the “We Support Our Troops” pin remain as a part of Legion dress indefinitely and that its status be reviewed by DEC in February 2011.

Other DEC Highlights

Valour Bridge: The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has agreed to provide signage for Valour Bridge. The vehicle and pedestrian bridge over Highway 417 near Legion House was designated as Valour Bridge in 2006. Dominion Command and the City of Ottawa erected plaques along its sides to commemorate Canada’s military achievements since the South African War. The signs will be erected in the field for both the eastbound and westbound right-of-ways approaching the bridge.

History Book: A history of the Legion 1986-2006 written by former Legion Magazine editor and general manager Mac Johnston is proceeding and the book is expected to be ready for publication later this year.

Sayad Pacha School: A Legion member serving in Afghanistan, Mike Hayes of Greely Branch, made a request for support for the Sayad Pacha School Project, which he is involved with in Kandahar. The recommendation was put forward that a request for donations be sent out via an all-branch mailing and that Dominion Command make the first donation of $500.

HMS Nancy: DEC endorsed the effort to build a replica of His Majesty’s Ship Nancy, a ship which served in the war of 1812 and to provide a donation of $5,000.

Charters Surrendered or Issued: In 2008, 14 branch charters were cancelled, three in Alberta-Northwest Territories Command, two each in Saskatchewan, Manitoba-Northwestern Ontario, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, and one in Nova Scotia/Nunavut. One new charter was issued for Newfoundland and Labrador Command.

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