Provincial funding program does not support needed Legion operating costs

MANITOULIN – A grant program announced by the Ontario government through the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) is not going to help the Royal Canadian Legion (RCL) because the funds are to be used for training of staff, not for needed assistance with operating costs. 

“What the province has done is get everyone’s hopes up and then shatter them in the next message,” said Ruth Eadie, president of the RCL Branch 177 in Little Current, last week. “I was excited when I first heard the funding news, but then we received a message from the Legion Command indicating the funding is not going to be helping us with operation costs.” 

Carrie Lewis, president of the RCL Branch 514 in Gore Bay echoed Ms. Eadie’s concerns. “I will reiterate a statement that had been made by a Legion representative that we don’t need assistance to figure out how to do fundraising etc., we need help to keep the Legions open and operating. As Legions we already knew how to fundraise, and many Legions have faced closure, and now that we are open again there are a lot of new requirements for people coming into the Legion due to COVID-19.”
“The provincial funds are not helping Legions where we need the funding help,” stated Ms. Lewis. RCL Branch 514 is open, but “thus far, the people are just not there that had been visiting the Legion prior to COVID-19. It is costing us more for things like cleaning; the funding is not going to where it needs to, to operate the Legion.”  

The Ontario government announced last week it is investing $83 million through the OTF to provide grants to help eligible non-profit organizations, including food banks, child and youth programs and Royal Canadian Legion branches recover from COVID-19 and continue the delivery of vital programming in their communities.

The announcement was made by Premier Doug Ford and Lisa MacLeod, minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. 

“I am proud of the hundreds of volunteer organizations and thousands of volunteers who have stepped up over the last few months and shown the Ontario spirit in caring for others through these difficult times,” said Premier Ford. “Our local non-profits, including our local Legion branches and food banks, are the bedrock of our communities and their work will be absolutely critical in helping people to rebuild their lives as we restart our economy and reopen the province.” 

The OTF’s Resilient Communities Fund will provide grants of up to $150,000 to help eligible non-profit organizations rebuild and recover from the impacts of COVID-19 with support.

However, as the two local Legion representatives had also noted, Jennie Stevens (St. Catharines), NDP critic for Veterans, Legions and Military Affairs, says the re-announcement of existing capital grants will do nothing to save Legions across Ontario that are on the brink of shutting down permanently due to the impact of COVID-19. 

Ms. Stevens says Ontario’s Legions desperately need operational funding to make it through the pandemic.

“Veterans and Legions don’t need program support or fundraising training, which is what this announcement will provide. They need an urgent lifeline to cover operational costs like rent, mortgage payments or the power bills until they can fully reopen their services, which are so valuable to the communities they serve.” 

Ms. Stevens indicated in a release that she wrote to the premier three months ago urging him to help Legions to make it through the crisis and explained what they needed was operation funding support to avoid shutting down. Doug Ford’s announcement Wednesday is not new money, she said, pointing out it is a rebranding of the OTF’s Grow and Capital Fund as the OTF Resilient Communities Fund which only offers grants for fundraising training and professional development that fails to address the urgent needs of Legions.

“Yet again Doug Ford refuses to listen. Legions asked for operation support to get through the crisis, and what they got today was just a renamed grant program that will do nothing to save the Legions struggling to survive,” said MPP Stevens in the release. “Legions don’t need or want training on fundraising or advice on ‘re-imagining’ service delivery through public-private partnership. Mr. Ford is telling Legions they’re on their own and won’t step up with the funding they desperately need right now. Ford likes to talk about how much he loves Legions, but in their  time of need he’s abandoned them.”

It’s estimated that 124 RCL branches are likely to close permanently, and another 357 are facing financial hardship.

Ms. Eadie told the Recorder, “as long as I’m the president of the Legion we will do a couple of fundraisers a month to keep afloat. And then when we hold elections, I am hoping someone will want to take over as president. No, we (Legion Branch 177) are still not open, we use the hall and hold fundraising events outside. We will try to continue to hold events to keep afloat.”