Thank you for inviting me to address your 56th Quebec Provincial Command Convention. This is a special honour for me because 2015 marks the 90th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Legion. This is an important occasion for Canadians to thank the Legion for its dedication to the care and support of Canada’s Veterans and their families, and its contribution to our way of life.
As a democratic, independent, non-partisan and member-based organization, you have improved the lives of thousands of Veterans and their families, including serving military and RCMP members, since your beginnings in 1925 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
From providing a strong voice for World War I Veterans to helping the Afghanistan Veterans of today, you have never faltered in your threefold mission of serving Canada’s Veterans and their families; promoting Remembrance, while keeping a focus on our serving military; and acting in the service of Canada and its communities.
I hear about your work and your reputation for excellent service all the time in my outreach to Veterans across the country. In February, I was here in Quebec meeting Veterans, their families and serving members in the Quebec City and Saguenay – Lac-Saint-Jean regions.
While hosting well-attended town halls in Ste-Foy and Chicoutimi, visiting CFB Valcartier and CFB Bagotville, and meeting staff at Veterans Affairs Canada’s area office in Quebec City, I heard over and over again about the importance of the Legion’s work to the Veterans’ community in Quebec. More often than not, the message conveyed to me was simply, “We need more Jimmy Labries!”
Although the last few years have been especially challenging ones for any organization or individual working within the Veterans’ community, I do believe that progress is being made. I also believe that your experience, support and wise council are significant factors as to why we are where we are today.
In October 2013 when I released my Reports on Improving the New Veterans Charter, the Royal Canadian Legion was the first to publically support my effort to underscore the urgent requirement for an expanded review of the Charter with a focus on financial compensation, vocational rehabilitation and family support.
That comprehensive analysis of the Charter, supported by evidence-based research, became the blueprint for the subsequent parliamentary hearings that have helped lead to the recent announcements on Veterans’ issues, such as: the new Retirement Income Security Benefit, the new Family Caregiver Relief Benefit, broadened eligibility criteria for the Permanent Impairment Allowance, enhanced benefits for injured part-time Reserve Force Veterans, the proposed new Critical Injury Benefit, or the hiring of new front-line staff and case managers to improve one-on-one support for Veterans.
My team and I could not have done the work that we did in the last couple of years without the help of the Legion and your deep understanding of the needs of the Veterans’ community, and I thank you for your ongoing support.
Have all the concerns for Veterans and their families been met? No, but the journey has been started and my Office will keep a close eye and provide regular updates to you and other stakeholders on the implementation of the announced measures to ensure that they are fair to Veterans.
As we move forward, it is important that both our Government and Canadians recognize not just the excellence of service that the Royal Canadian Legion has given to our country in the past 90 years, but also appreciate and support the renewed outreach capacity that the Veterans’ community expects and is depending on the Legion to deliver in the future.
You broke new ground in 1925 when you created a powerful voice for Veterans at a time when they desperately needed help, and you have continued to be at the forefront of service to the Veterans’ community in the nine decades since.
An example that speaks volumes about your courage to act is your early support of homeless Veterans. The Legion was involved in developing transition housing and outreach programs long before the Government even acknowledged that there were homeless Veterans. And, you are continuing to build on your experience helping these most vulnerable Veterans.
Just last week I read about the launch of a national partnership to promote support services for Canada’s Veterans by the Legion and Veterans Emergency Transition Service Canada.
By working with this young, energetic grassroots organization to help at-risk and in-crisis CAF and RCMP Veterans, often living on the streets or in shelters, you are once again breaking new ground and showing the power of partnerships.
Another example of your ability as an organization to recognize and meet the challenges of the times is the Legion Military Skills Conversion Program, designed to help accelerate and advance the civilian careers of releasing Canadian Armed Forces members.
This program is the result of the partnership forged with the British Columbia Institute of Technology to help transitioning Veterans translate their military qualifications into civilian post-secondary credits and diplomas. Today it is seen as a replicable working model for the future both across Canada and beyond.
It is important to remember that while both of these innovative programs have national reach today, they started out as local ideas addressing real concerns and then became provincial initiatives with potential national reach and impact.
This is your strength. By being physically present in communities across the country, you have your ear to the ground. You are in a unique position to listen to the concerns of Veterans and their families and help translate them into actionable solutions.
Sometimes you accomplish this through the advice that you give to Government; sometimes it is through partnership building; and sometimes it is on your own, but where you see a need you make a difference.
However, this is not always well enough known inside and outside the Veterans’ community. From my perspective, I encourage you to exploit the fact that the Legion has a bricks and mortar presence across this country – bar none – with experienced volunteers and staff ready and able to help Veterans and their families – but, today, it is underutilized. That needs to change.
All in all, the first 90 years of the Royal Canadian Legion have been truly remarkable. Your support to Veterans has often been the helping hand – the special bond of trust that exists only between servicemen and women – that has given hope to many. I encourage you to start your next 90 years by expanding on all that is good and innovative in your organization.
Membership is your foundation. Continue to open your doors wide to the newest generations of Veterans and their families. Many need your help. Together you will build a stronger tomorrow because each of you will recognize in each other your unsurpassed mutual dedication to service to Canada.
I wish you much success for your future.
May you have many more years of good comradeship!