For nearly a century veterans’ groups have been playing a historic role in the development of Canadian society.
Unfortunately, in a long era of government expenditure reductions and shrinking membership Royal Canadian Legions are now muddling through difficult financial times.
I think the time has come for us to give something back to these institutions and these members who have given us so much in the past.
What first were intended to be safe havens for world war veterans have, over time, also come to be gathering places for all members of the public in the communities that they serve.
Since the establishment of the Great War Veterans Association in 1917, veteran organizations in Canada have undergone substantial changes over time in order to unify and accommodate the community.
At their peak in the 1980s, the Royal Canadian Legion had more than 6,800 branches and 600,000 members. Today, there are still more than 360,000 members and 1,500 local branches spread across the country, including eight here in Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding.
Be it through fundraising campaigns to assist fellow veterans or community service programs to support the public, our Legions have become vital gathering places in the communities they serve.
As financially autonomous bodies, funding for individual branches almost always is limited to the public support received by their respective communities.
Unfortunately, the primary source of revenue—membership dues—has been declining steadily over the past 25 years and now only contributes marginally to the maintenance of these institutions.
Some of this is due to the structure of the organization itself as 90 percent of a single membership fee is relinquished to Dominion and Provincial Command (the overseeing bodies). But other problems also are related to the changing nature of our economy, increased operating costs, and declining membership.
Raising fees to counter this problem is a possibility, but it also could deter those interested from becoming members. And for branches already facing a slump in membership, this is simply not an option.
Today, branches must obtain most of their funding through catering services, fundraising efforts made by the ladies’ and youth auxiliaries, bar sales, and by renting out their halls for special occasions.
While this allows citizens to become increasingly involved with their Legion and builds a sense of community, individual branches now are forced to compete with restaurants, bars, and banquet halls for money.
For those struggling with finances, much of the money they’re able to raise simply keeps them afloat and leaves little room to invest in infrastructure upgrades or renewal.
As these facilities age and structures start to deteriorate, fewer people will be inclined to rent these spaces for special occasions, which can amplify the financial difficulties at many branches.
Many Legions across Canada have fallen victim to these circumstances over the years.
In tabling Motion-417, I called upon the federal government to address this issue by creating a Royal Canadian Legion Infrastructure Renewal Fund.
If implemented, it is my hope any investment made by individual branches to preserve or enhance their physical infrastructure–such as heating or ventilation upgrades–would be eligible for matching funds by the federal government.
While the Harper Conservatives have provided some federal funding to non-profit community facilities through a Community Infrastructure Improvement Fund (CIIF), this worthwhile but temporary program is set to expire and Legions are forced to compete with other organizations for these funds.
Of the $150 million designated in the CIIF, a total of $144,643 has been provided to four Legion branches that have used the money to upgrade their kitchens, replace their roofs, and install new heating and air conditioning units, among other fixes.
It’s a good idea, but I think we need a permanent standalone program for Legions moving forward.
In short, I believe it is our turn to help out and give back—with equal enthusiasm—to an organization that has given us so much over the years.
Whether it’s providing counselling for seniors, recreational activities for the youth, or transition programs for veterans so that they can integrate back into civilian life, the Royal Canadian Legion always has provided invaluable services to our communities.
I think it’s time we answer the call of duty and lend a helping hand to the branches of the Royal Canadian Legion who need it so that they can continue to provide these important services to veterans and citizens alike moving forward.