Despite their recent move into a smaller building, the Langley branch of the Royal Canadian Legion continues to be plagued by financial troubles. It is so bad, in fact, that in January, the newly-elected executive of Branch 21 approached the organization’s provincial body to ask for help getting their financial house in order.
The Langley Legion has been experiencing money troubles for some time, but the move from their former location to the new building on 56 Avenue, coupled with issues with the City, has made matters worse, said Janice Poustie, the Langley Legion’s new president.
The Legion had planned to spend between $400,000 and $700,000 on renovations and upgrading to its new property, but it turned out that the building they purchased needed more than $1 million in improvements (more than they’d paid for the property itself), leaving the organization carrying a large mortgage it had not anticipated, said Poustie, who declined to provide an exact figure.
“If it had gone as planned, we’d have had a substantial amount of money in the bank,” she said. “Instead, we’ve had to put out large sums of money we hadn’t considered.”
In addition, Poustie said, for the past three years or so, grant money the Langley Legion had regularly received from the City has not been forthcoming.
“The City of Langley, in previous years, has been very good to the Legion,” Poustie said.
However, she said, “the current feeling is not the friendliest.”
The City reportedly made its position plain at a meeting held before Poustie was on the executive — one she did not herself attend.
“In their words, ‘there is not a place for the Royal Canadian Legion in the design of the new downtown core of Langley.’ It’s sad because we’ve always had a great relationship with City council,” Poustie said.
Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender said the notion the City of Langley has no place for the Legion is not accurate.
“It’s absolutely incorrect to say the City doesn’t support the Legion, that it doesn’t care. We value the Legion. We value what they do and we value the financial support they give to local organizations. And we absolutely value our veterans.
“It’s not a question of there is no place for them (in the City). There is absolutely a place.”
Last year, the City spent more than $200,000 to construct a cenotaph in Douglas Park, where residents can gather each Nov. 11 to honour Langley’s veterans, he noted. It also supported a campaign to hang banners featuring photos of Langley vets along downtown streets.
Fassbender said the meeting to which Poustie referred is likely one that was held about three years ago. At the time, he said, he spoke bluntly to Legion members about how the organization must adapt to changing times.
“I felt they had to find a way to change their financial model and to become self-sustaining.”
At the time, Fassbender said, he suggested the Legion’s former building was “a drain on their ability to be financially viable” and that they weigh all their options, including leasing a different space versus buying one.
“I also told them they could always approach council (to ask for) a tax exemption, but I could not guarantee they would get what they were looking for.”
The City’s grant policy is limited to funding capital projects, meaning it cannot help an organization with its operational expenses.
“They’re trying to find a way out from under their financial situation, but the way out is not for the City to continually give them money when their financial model is not working,” Fassbender said.
Inga Kruse, executive director of the Legion’s B.C./Yukon Command said the Langley branch is not the first to ask for help to get back on a solid financial footing.
Command’s only role in Langley is in an advisory capacity and Kruse is confident that will be sufficient to turn things around.
“I’ve personally watched the correspondence (between the Langley executive and the advisors) and their ideas are quite doable,” she said.
The advisory role assumed in this case by the BC/Yukon Command is just one level of support they can provide, Kruse explained.
There have been extreme cases where they’ve put a Legion branch under a trusteeship and taken over its financial management, but only as a last resort, said Kruse.
“Branches are autonomous, so we have to be really sure they’re in the weeds (before stepping in). We don’t want to see a branch go down.
“With Langley, I don’t see a need in the immediate future for a trusteeship. I just don’t.”
With an organization that has been around as long as the Legion, the situation is hardly unique, she said.
“Many of our branches, over the years, have found themselves scratching their heads (and asking) how did we get here?”
Legions are run by volunteers who don’t always have a great deal of business experience, Kruse noted.
Aging war veterans have been largely replaced by baby boomers, in terms of the management of the Legion, she said, but numbers continue to drop. The challenge of how to draw new people remains.
One of the greatest myths about the Legion is that you have to be associated with the military to be a member when, in fact, any Canadian citizen can join.
“We would love some new members, some new blood,” said Kruse, who is an associate member of the Aldergrove Legion.
Her husband, who is ex-Navy, is a regular member.
“People in the Langley branch, I know, are very dedicated to seeing it survive,” Kruse said.
“Our organization is not sitting around, waiting to die.”