Dale Cotton, left and father Ken lay a wreath at the cenotaph at Dallas Square Park in Nanaimo for the Remembrance Day 2017 ceremony. (KARL YU/The News Bulletin)

COVID-19 a challenge for Vancouver Island Legions

North Island MP asks for more support to help veteran and community support group through COVID-19

On Vancouver Island, May 8 — VE Day — traditionally belongs to the Legion.

But as branches and supporters host COVID-muted ceremonies today to mark the allied forces’ 1945 victory in Europe, there drifts an undercurrent of concern.

Adding the pressures of the pandemic to an organization that is, in some communities, already dealing with dwindling resources and membership might mean this veteran and community support group gets left behind.

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North Island MP Rachel Blaney, who is responsible for veterans affairs for the NDP, penned a letter to the Minister for Veterans Affairs Lawrence MacAulay to ensure that adequate funding reaches Royal Canadian Legion branches that are struggling due to the crisis.

“The last thing we want to see happen is legions shutting down. I’ve also had the opportunity to talk to several of our local legions, some are definitely starting to feel the crunch, and are looking at ways to address that issue. Some are doing OK right now, but know how tentative that is,” Blaney said.

“We’re just asking the minister to step forward and reach out to legions across the country and just provide that extra bit of help so that they’re still here and functional after COVID-19 ends.”

Legion funding comes from the community, typically through dinners, fundraisers, the poppy program and drink sales. However, since the volunteer-run centres were closed to ensure proper social distancing, these revenue streams have dried up, leaving many branches wondering how they will stay afloat. Branches have reached out to Blaney from within the North Island riding and outside of it to ask for more support from the government, prompting the letter to MacAulay.

“I want to be really clear, the legions that I’ve talked to are really desperate. Other legions that I’ve reached out to know that it’s scary, but they’re trying really hard to not ask for help until they absolutely have to. These are not a bunch of people who are saying ‘give us money’ they really need help,” she said.

“They’re worried. I’ve had a few questions from legions both in the riding and outside asking about whether they can apply for the wage subsidy program, or the loan. It’s a bit of a gap, and we want that gap to be addressed.”

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Some of the solutions proposed in Blaney’s letter include creating a fund for these organizations to weather the pandemic.

Legion branches in small towns are community hubs, and though they offer places for people to gather and socialize, they also provide services to Canadians who have served in the armed forces. Volunteers help people maneuver through veterans affairs services and connect them with resources.

“I think of Port Alice for example. The legion plays a really significant role in that community. They’re big on Texada, the legion there does some amazing work. People pay to use it, there are dinners, fundraising activities, but everything has changed. We just need to support them to make ends meet until we get to the other side,” Blaney said.

“We just don’t want to see that unintentional outcome from a lack of attention and then suddenly there are losses across Canada. That key role of supporting our veterans, I think we all agree as Canadians is important,” she added.

Other organizations that help veterans are funded federally, and that funding has remained in place through the crisis. The legion’s special circumstance (relying on fundraising) has found it in this situation.

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