Royal Canadian Legion says Ontario funding won't address needs during COVID-19 pandemic

It has been a difficult few months for branches of the Royal Canadian Legion across the province, since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Now, following the recent provincial funding announcement to support non-profit organizations, Legion officials are saying the money being promised won’t help where it’s needed most.

Erl Kish has been a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for 53 years, and a member of the Legion Branch 496 in Sydenham, Ont., for the past five years.

"It’s just a great organization or I wouldn’t be here this long," he laughs.

He says no matter where you go throughout Canada, if you walk into a Legion, you feel at home.

"Especially with the military family you always have something in common to talk about," explains Kish. "It means a place where you can gather to support your community, to raise funds, just generally good camaraderie."

However, he points out Legion’s are struggling, because members cannot host events, fundraise, or host more than 50 people under provincial physical distancing measures.

Eastern Ontario Legions are among those struggling through the pandemic. The 62 branches in the area either remain closed, or are running on reduced hours.

On Wednesday, the Ontario Government announced Legion’s would qualify to receive part of $83-million dollars in funding through the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

The money set aside to help non-profits fundraise, recruit volunteers, and provide things like mental and physical health support.

On Thursday, speaking to CTV News Ottawa, Royal Canadian Legion, Ontario Command President Gary Pond said the funding, while extremely welcome, is not going where it should be at the moment: to help with rent, mortgage payments, hydro bills, and other costs.

"It’s absolutely fantastic that we have programs that we can help our vets and our communities," Pond explains. "But somebody has mental health issues, if they don’t have a Legion branch to help them, there’s no way, if that Legion branch fails and is no longer there, then the help is no good to them."

He also raises concerns that each branch will have to individually apply for the funding, which can be expensive and detailed, at a time of uncertainty.

"We want to keep as many Legion branches, across Ontario, going strong," he explains.

CTV News Ottawa reached out to Minister Lisa McLeod, her office says she’ll be making a statement on the funding Friday at the Barrhaven Legion.

Until then Pond says he hopes moving forward, more funding will be made available from all levels of government to help support local branches like the one in Sydenham.