The 2015 budget underwent extensive revision, following the will of dominion convention. Savings were sought in every area of operations—staff, travel, equipment and supplies. To improve revenue, sponsors are being approached to help finance some programs and costs of providing services were recalculated and passed along.
Dominion Command expenses were slashed by $757,548, reducing the deficit for 2014 to $217,639.
But falling membership will continue to cause a decline in revenue. Even with continued fiscal vigilance, it is projected that $111,299 will be needed from reserve funds to balance the books in 2015, said Dominion Treasurer Mark Barham.
Either DEC gets creative in reviewing operating expenses, programs and revenue sources, said Barham, “Or we accept there’s going to be a deficit budget and continue on the road [to] projected closure and loss of The Royal Canadian Legion maybe five or six years out. The latter…we’re not going to let that happen. We’re going to get creative.”
“We can’t live off the reserve fund,” said Dominion President Tom Eagles. The reserve fund is about $2.9 million. He promised the budget will be balanced by 2016—and gave warning that further cuts—particularly to community and veteran-support programs, which have not yet been touched—may be necessary to balance the 2015 budget.
DEC overwhelmingly supported the president’s motion there be no further Dominion Command deficit budgeting and that the reserve fund be used only in emergency.
To increase revenue, a charitable foundation is being established as a focus for donations, and more partners are being sought to help fund programs. In addition, Canvet Publications Ltd., publisher of Legion Magazine, will pay over 45 per cent more annually for accounting and 15 per cent more in rent. The poppy-fund grant to support the service bureau will increase to 90 per cent from 85 per cent of the department’s $750,000 budget. As well, poppy funds will pay Supply Department costs for managing poppy sales, more expenses of the national Remembrance Day ceremony, and some expenses associated with administering the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League’s Caribbean-veterans program.
Every operating budget was perused for savings in 2014. Travel and hospitality budgets were slashed, and expenses for spousal travel eliminated. Dominion committees are relying on telecommunication for more meetings.
Legion House permanent staff positions were cut from 42 to 39 and staff salaries have been frozen for 2015.
The dominion convention in 2014 cost about $500,000 split over two years, but at least $50,000 has been shaved from projected expenses for the 2016 convention. Convention fees will increase to $60 for delegates and $20 for observers. Due to high cost and low usage, simultaneous interpretation will no longer be provided, but printed material and projected presentations will be in both official languages. A recommendation to move convention to a three-year cycle was rejected.
DEC unanimously supported Eagles in using the president’s special powers under the General By-Laws to suspend the 2016 national eight-ball and curling championships, pending a decision on their fate at the next dominion convention. “These sports are not national in scope, [therefore] not cost effective,” said Eagles. The budgets for these sports account for $63,900 of the projected $105,600 member-participation sports budget for 2015.
A recommendation to alternate national member-sports championships, with darts and eight-ball in one year, curling and cribbage the next, was rejected. So was saving travel funds by having national championships supervised by provincial command sports chairs rather than dominion representatives, as it was argued Dominion Command should have final say regarding enforcement of its rules at national events.
Although it had been suggested that attendance of senior elected officers at provincial command conferences be replaced with a video presentation for a savings of more than $42,000, DEC voted to reinstate personal appearances.
“We have a crisis in finance,” said Ontario Command President Bruce Julian, “but we also have a crisis in confidence between Dominion Command and our members” that warrants senior officers’ attendance at provincial conventions. Added Vice-President Ed Pigeau: “We’ve got a lot to be proud of with what we’ve done in the last year…we’ve got to be there to assure our members, “We are working for you.’”
Growing membership is key in reversing financial fortunes and securing the future of the Legion, said Membership and Outreach Committee Co-Chair Tom Irvine, who urged branch executives to make new members feel welcome in their branches by introducing them around, showing them the ropes, acting as guides and mentors.
Among activities considered for boosting membership are recruitment campaigns around Canada Day and Remembrance Week; creating a Town Hall Facebook page; inviting ladies auxiliary members to join; and a “Get the Grump Out” campaign to encourage branches to welcome military members, new members and visitors.
Provincial presidents reported many branches are run by entrenched executives who are not open to new ideas nor are they welcoming to younger members. Meetings are held during working hours, new ideas dismissed out of hand, and young members quickly become disillusioned.
Alberta-Northwest Territories Command President Wayne Donner reported that the 2013 provincial convention had record-setting numbers of first-time attendees—due to restricting business sessions to weekends. Ontario Command President Bruce Julian reported distribution of 200,000 copies of the Thanks for Wearing a Poppy booklet to the general public at every opportunity. “Some branches chose not to participate, but those that did reported widespread success in attracting new members.”
“We must make it more desirable to join,” said B.C./Yukon President Angus Stanfield. The command is considering how to tap into the online culture of the new generation of veterans. “Our traditional lounge and hall model doesn’t work as universally as it used to.”
Even as the Legion struggles with finance and membership, the work of supporting veterans continues. Commands reported an increase in demand for service officers. The Dominion Command Service Bureau reported 3,187 claims handled in 2014, an increase of 473, of which 374 were first applications. Various provincial commands also reported an increase in demand for service bureau assistance, particularly in areas affected by closures of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) district offices. And funding is in place for Legion volunteers to conduct 8,000 visits to veterans under the VAC Outreach and Visitation Initiative.
The Legion continues to press for action on changes to the New Veterans Charter, including increasing the Earnings Loss Benefit to 100 per cent of pre-release income and increasing the maximum disability award to be consistent with civil court awards.
“We see the upcoming federal election as an opportunity…to state our position on issues affecting veterans, their families and their overall well-being,” said Eagles. He introduced Veterans Matter, the Legion position paper on veterans’ issues he hopes to see reflected in the election platforms of federal political parties.
The paper addresses reforms in care and support of veterans, support to families, funding for research in military and veteran health issues, and defence and security issues.
Other News from DEC
The following news was also presented at the Feb. 20-22 meeting of Dominion Executive Council.
- In the 2014 Poppy Campaign, 2.14 million individual adhesive stickers and 207,401 Lest We Forget bracelets were distributed in addition to 16.8 million lapel pins.
- Dominion Command Supply Department sales were up seven per cent in 2014 to $1.8 million, due to increased sales to military Canex stores, museums, web stores and mailing of the catalogue to branches.
- A commemorative pin for the 100th anniversary of the First World War featuring detail from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been developed and permission granted for it to be worn on uniform lapels from Nov. 1, 2015, to Nov. 30, 2016.
- A medal commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Legion is available for wear on Legion dress in June 2015. The medal depicts Legion and Royal Newfoundland Regiment Colours, tying in with the 100th anniversary of Beaumont-Hamel. More than 3,300 had been ordered by February.
- British Columbia/Yukon Command is the winner of the inaugural Bert Garrett Award for highest recruitment and retention of members. The award is named for the Legionnaire from Renfrew, Ont., Branch who personally recruited 182 members in 1963.
- A donation of $500,000 from poppy funds was approved to support the Royal Ottawa Foundation Fund campaign to raise $25 million to buy PET-MRI technology (positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging) for diagnosis and brain imagery of operational stress injuries, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Project Healing Waters, which promotes healing for veterans through fly-fishing, has been given $15,000 from poppy funds to support veterans at three events in 2015.
- The geographic hosting rotation of member sports events has been removed. Branches across the country may apply to host events any year, though regional balance will be considered in final decisions.
- A minimum mandatory dress code of collared shirts, slacks and closed shoes has been established for participants in member sports activities.
- Twelve branches surrendered their charter and one new charter was issued for Okotoks Branch in Alberta.
- In honour of veterans and the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Newfoundland and Labrador proposes naming two new ferries the MV Veteran and the MV Legionnaire.