This opinion piece by Dominion President Thomas D. Irvine, CD was recently published in The Guardian
I am witnessing extreme stress across the country over the possibility of Legion Branches disappearing, one by one. The federal government is dragging its heels in providing promised assistance. I will continue to do everything in my power and on behalf of The Royal Canadian Legion to ensure we do not lose any of our current 1381 locations.
How we got to this point is confounding. During this time of financial distress, the federal government quickly announced help for many sectors, but the Legion’s essential work was forgotten. Now after months of waiting, we need an assistance program to be expedited immediately.
The Legion’s outreach for help started with my two letters to the Prime Minister, one in April, the other in June. I received radio silence. More recently, I met with Minister MacAulay of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) and we briefly discussed the situation. He understood the Legion’s plight, though made no direct funding commitment at that time.
Since then, a spark of real hope came after a major TV network updated their story on this topic. Thankfully, our media have paid attention to the Legion’s dilemma. We did then receive confirmation from VAC that something was in the works, welcome news at last! But with a time estimate of “soon” and no details, we wait, while more Branches teeter on the brink of permanent closure, not knowing whether the promised aid package will even hit the mark.
Originally, we were pleased to learn the federal government was set to release an emergency fund designed to support not-for-profit organizations. As a volunteer-based organization, we expected Branches would be eligible for help. However, we quickly learned the terms of the program essentially disqualified most of them. Those that have managed to access federal assistance have done so primarily through the federal emergency loan program for businesses. It is a welcome short-term measure to be sure. But none of us knows what the future will bring and like any loan, it must be repaid. While a portion will be forgiven, unless a particular Branch can recover, it is a potentially risky undertaking at this time.
The Royal Canadian Legion is a 95-year old institution whose primary focus is to support Veterans, their families and our communities. We organize and hold the yearly National Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa and countless other Remembrance activities across the country. Our work is profound and our volunteers number in the tens of thousands. They have continued their work as best they can despite these difficult circumstances and I salute them all.
For almost 100 years, we have prided ourselves on being self-sufficient, and plan to remain so. A pandemic was not in our forecast and our Branches need an unprecedented level of help. We realize that sorting this out takes time, but how long must we wait? I remain optimistic our federal government will follow through with its promised assistance not only for our Branches, but for other organizations left in the shadows.
Lest we forget it is our Veterans’ sacrifices that laid the very foundations of this fortunate society we call Canada.
Thomas D. Irvine, CD
Dominion President, The Royal Canadian Legion