B.C. Legions are watching intently as politicians consider a push to give them a permanent tax break.
The ongoing Union of B.C. Municipalities conference will consider a motion put forward by the City of Victoria to urge the B.C. government to provide a province-wide property tax exemptions to the Royal Canadian Legion.
It’s a move that could provide struggling Legion branches with dwindling memberships a better chance of survival than the current patchwork of treatment for Canadian Legion branches that leaves many facing astronomical tax bills that they can ill afford.
Like Sooke, other municipal governments, including Calgary and Victoria, have waived property taxes for legions on a spot basis, but that relief is rarely permanent. In some municipalities, the treatment can see one Legion branch exempted while another still pays the tax.
The only exception to the situation is in Ontario where the provincial government has passed legislation to exempt all Royal Canadian Legion branches in the province from paying property tax, beginning in 2019.
It’s a situation that creates stress for Legion branches that in recent years have faced financial challenges, said Veronica Brown, the executive director of the Royal Canadian Legion’s B.C./Yukon Command.
“Branches like Sooke are property rich and cash poor and property taxes are just not sustainable in light of the fact that the organization is struggling to reinvent itself to better serve a new generation of vets and their families,” Brown said.
The Sooke Legion currently enjoys a property tax-exempt status that’s scheduled to run out in 2020. At that time, organizations which are exempt from property taxes will need to reapply.
Raechel Grey, the acting director of finance for Sooke, said all exempted properties get a letter asking them to confirm that nothing has changed in their operation, such as the opening of a for-profit retail outlet on the premises.
“If nothing changes, they will likely be exempted from property tax again,” she said. “If there was a real change in what they are doing, they could theoretically be removed from the list.”
Brown said the Legion is changing and that the dark bars of the past are giving way to more family-oriented facilities with a greater emphasis in giving back to the community.
“It’s time for the Royal Canadian Legion to enter a new chapter in its existence. Our young veterans need us more than ever and those veterans are prepared to continue their service by giving back to the communities in which they live,” Brown said.
“It just doesn’t make sense to tax them out of existence.”