Despite the $83 million pledged by the provincial government to help non-profit organizations, Garry Pond, the Royal Canadian Legion Ontario Command President says that Legion branches won’t be greatly helped by the new funds.
Pond recognizes where the government’s heart is, but says that it’s not a saviour for Ontario Legions.
“We appreciate what the government is doing here; however, we have concerns because the money provided is not going to help Legions with operational funding. So, it’s something that they can use for the programs that they have. But if a Legion needs money to pay their bills…this fund is not for that,” Pond explains.
He adds that many branches around the province have had to completely shut down because of the pandemic.
“Most legions are not going to open right now – it’s just not economically feasible. If you can only bring 50 people into your Legion or if you have a patio that can bring 100 people, it’s not economical to be paying salaries for four or five people to come in and have a beer,” Pond said.
In the initial release by the Government of Ontario, Royal Canadian Legion Branches were specifically named among the non-profit organizations that were set to benefit from the grant program. Pond says that only a select few branches in the province would be able to take advantage of the grant.
“The money is designed to be used by not-for-profits that create a program to help the community. We appreciate that and if we have Legion branches that are surviving and could use this, I’m certainly sure some of them will, but it’s not going to help the Legions that are on the brink of closing,” he explains.
Pond says Royal Canadian Legions serve as a community gathering place where weddings and parties are hosted. They are a place where military veterans in the community can congregate, and access any resources they may need. Legions rely primarily on fees associated with hosting events and catering to cover their operating costs.
Pond – whose first Canadian Forces posting was in North Bay – says that the two branches within the city aren’t in as much trouble, but Legions in the surrounding towns like Callander may suffer.
“The Legion in small-town Canada is a community hub. If we lose those small-town legions, then the community is going to suffer,” he said.
There are 395 total Legion branches in the entire province. Pond says that the Ontario Command estimates that 10 to 15 branches will imminently close down, with more likely to follow depending on the duration of the pandemic.
Pond mentions that both Premier Doug Ford and Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries are members of their hometowns’ Legions. He acknowledges the efforts the politicians have made.
“I know that they’re trying to help and that their hearts are in the right place and we certainly appreciate any help they can give us but I think the help is not really where we need the help right now. We need to keep our Legions alive,” he concluded.