Ontario Command Accepts Sweeping Bylaw Changes
It was a time of sweeping change at the Ontario Command 46th convention held May 9-13 in Burlington.
In addition to the adoption of a comprehensive new set of branch bylaws, the elections process revealed a vastly changed command executive. While Ed Pigeau of Thessalon Branch took his seat as the newly elected president, it was Andre Paquette of Harry Searle Branch in Chapleau who carried the day to become Ontario’s new first vice president. Joining them are three new faces in the position of vice president—Brian Smith, Brian Weaver and Bruce Julian—and a new honorary treasurer, Larry Lamble.
But before all of the elections and business proceedings began, there was the traditional day of opening ceremonies to attend to. Sunday morning in Burlington was a distinctly nice time to be attending a wreath-placing ceremony at the town’s cenotaph just off Brant Street, almost within sight of Lake Ontario.
Dozens of spectators turned out to watch as dignitaries placed wreaths, including Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, Dominion First Vice President Pat Varga, Ontario Command President George O’Dair and Ontario Silver Cross Mother Linda Learn and her husband Albert Graham. Their son Private Mark Graham was killed in Afghanistan in 2006.
O’Dair began Monday morning’s proceedings with the president’s message. While generally a positive overview of his term, O’Dair did touch briefly on the contentious issue of governance in the Legion, only to say that while the “loss of representative democracy” was his term’s greatest disappointment, “the decision has been made, and we’ll live with it…I don’t choose to re-argue the case at this convention, it’s done.”
Following O’Dair, Minister Thompson spoke not only of our aging veterans, but of the newer Afghan veterans and the new and difficult challenges they face. “Every year more than 20,000 veterans pass away and we only have to do the math to understand the reality that we face. There is only one World War I veteran remaining…how long will it be until we are saying the same of our WW II veterans?
“At the same time, we must recognize that there is a new and growing number of modern-day veterans. In less than a decade our younger veterans will outnumber the veterans of the two great wars and Korea…They are serving in very dangerous places, and none of them return home the same as they left. As the old saying goes, in war there are no unwounded soldiers, and we have to be there for them.”
Elections began just after the credentials report was read. Unlike at other conventions, there was to be only one report in Burlington. At just before 10:30 a.m. there were 649 accredited delegates present carrying 923 proxies for a total voting strength of 1,572.
The first order of business was to elect a new president. After O’Dair received his customary nomination, he strode to the podium and said: “I’d love to stay on as your president, however there’s no bloody way I’m going to try that nonsense again.”
Ed Pigeau then came to the microphone. “Listening to what Comrade George said, I’m going to need a minute to think about this,” he said to great laughs. Nonetheless, he was acclaimed president and received a standing ovation.
Moving on, all three incumbent vice-presidents were nominated for the position of first vice president: Andre Paquette, Marg Emery of Lord Elgin Branch in St. Thomas and Ted Whan of Sir William Stephenson Branch in Oshawa.
Each nominee was given two minutes to address the delegates. All three gave brief introductions and without delay the first ballot began. Whan was dropped after the first ballot and Andre Paquette won on the next.
The Constitution and Laws report, read by committee chairman Bruce McKittrick, contained 20 minor amendments to the Ontario Command bylaws and one resolution concerning complaints at the branch level, which proposed that “a member’s previous documented history of complaints over a period of up to five years against him/her be taken into consideration when the disposition is being considered by the complaint committee…” so that “the severity of the discipline applied though the disposition be increased to protect the integrity of the branch and harmony within the branch.” The resolution passed.
Next up was a report by the Constitution and Laws Committee on branch bylaw reform.
As McKittrick began, he noted there were 24 pages to read, which he summed up by saying “the overall idea of crafting these amendments was to bring consistency to branch bylaws, which there wasn’t any before, they’re all over the map.”
Before the report could be read, great debate ensued on what exactly was at stake. Many on the floor seemed to feel that this report represented an attempt by the provincial command to take away the ability of the branches to create their own regulations. In addition, others weren’t sure how the new branch bylaws would apply should the document be passed by Dominion Command, whether it would be immediate or at the end of the term.
After an extensive, if not to say exhaustive, debate on the substance of the proposed general bylaws for branches, the proposal was put to the question and it passed with little opposition, giving Ontario Command a new, provincewide set of branch bylaws. However, it should be noted that individual branch regulations or clubhouse rules can still be created within the scope outlined by the branch bylaws.
When everything was finally passed, O’Dair congratulated McKittrick for the massive job he’d just completed. “If there was one thing I wanted to accomplish during my term, it was this,” said O’Dair. “I think it’s really going to make things easier.”
It was then time for the delegates to hear from Dominion Command as represented by Varga. “The Legion is the sum of its branches,” she began. “The members are the branch. I know that times are tough for many branches, but I encourage you to keep on doing what we do best: remembrance, service to our veterans, community service.
“We may have to change and adapt to survive but we will always have our core values of service to veterans, remembrance and community,” concluded Varga. “I wish you the best at this convention. I know you will not lose sight of the big picture.”
Honorary Treasurer Don Hubb’s report revealed a highly positive financial picture to the delegates. For the fiscal year 2007-08, Ontario Command had a financial surplus of $533,958. There were a couple of reasons for the surplus, including successful cost-cutting measures, new income from various sources and an amount of $142,413 that came from the sale of a branch in Toronto.
The membership committee report, read by Ted Whan, showed that in 2008 Ontario Command lost 6,405 members since 2007. Interestingly, Whan also discovered that there are now 9,376 Gulf War veterans in the Legion and only 2,964 Korean War veterans.
The day ended with Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League donations, which raised more than $24,000.
On Tuesday morning business began bright and early with the first order of business being the vice-presidential election. The original five nominees—Brian Smith of Paisley Branch, Brian Weaver of Capt. Brien Branch in Essex, Dave McQuaker of Stouffville Branch, Ron Goebel of Carleton Place Branch and Bruce Julian of Beachville Branch—were joined on stage by Ted Whan and Marg Emery.
After both Whan and Emery declined to stand, the election began. McQuaker’s name was dropped after the first ballot. There were 1,550 ballots cast on the second vote and the three vice-presidents for the next term were announced as Julian, Weaver and Smith.
Andre Paquette then gave the poppy report with the grim details of several branches’ continued misuse of poppy funds. In some cases branches were using the poppy account as if it were no different from a branch account. Money from the poppy accounts are and will be tightly controlled, he said.
The convention then collected funds for the Troop Morale Fund. This year, for the first time, funds could be donated from previous branch fundraising efforts as well as from the floor. It quickly became clear that the amounts were in many cases astoundingly high, as figures of up to $20,000 were heard. The total of the morning’s donations was announced later at more than $110,000. The grand total for all donations received by Ontario Command was over $190,000, which was then bumped by command up to an even $200,000.
The Honours and Awards report, read by Mike Atkinson, was followed by two resolutions. The first resolution was to direct Dominion Command to approach Veterans Affairs Canada to urge that a pin be struck to honour First Nations, Metis and Inuit veterans of Canada. The second resolution was that the Honours and Awards program provide a certificate of condolence to the family of deceased members. Both items passed without debate.
With the president, first vice and vice-presidents taken care of, there were only two elections left to go. Next up was the contest for honorary treasurer for which there were two nominees: Howe Saunders of North Bay Branch and Larry Lamble of Brig.-Gen. G.H. Ralston Branch in Port Hope. The vote was taken and when the scrutineers returned, their count revealed that Lamble had been elected.
There was no election necessary for the position of chairman, as incumbent Bill Chafe was acclaimed.
Four names were put forward for vice-chairman: Eric Ross, Jim Connell, Dave McQuaker and incumbent Ron Goebel. Connell and Ross declined the nominations which left a quick and easy election process. Goebel was elected.
With the business largely concluded, all that remained was the installation ceremony and one key speech by incoming president Ed Pigeau.
“I began this journey 20 years ago never realizing it would come to this,” said Pigeau, almost ruefully, before going on to give a remarkable speech that focused on a wide variety of issues he plans to address over the course of his term.
“In the next few years we will work toward the betterment of our branches,” he said, before going on to relate his ideas about branch officer training. “Those who desire leadership skills need to know that ‘we’ are here to help.”
“While we are tough, it doesn’t matter if we can’t work together,” he said. “Comrades, be strong, be cool, enjoy. We will remember them.”
It was a fitting conclusion to a well-run and successful convention.