The view from the helm

October 16, 2023
Clockwise from top left: Former Federal Retirees president Jean-Guy Soulière (Photo: Dave Chan)
Clockwise from top left: Former Federal Retirees president Jean-Guy Soulière (Photo: Dave Chan), current president Roy Goodall (Photo: Dave Chan) and former presidents Gary Oberg and Dennis Jackson share their memories of their time in office on the occasion of the Association‘s 60th anniversary.

Keeping Federal Retirees focused on advocacy for its members and encouraging individual engagement through the local branches has been a recurring theme for the organization‘s leadership, recent interviews with three past-presidents and the current president reveal.

A post-pandemic mandate

Roy Goodall looks forward to a post-pandemic world.

Federal Retirees‘ most recently elected president is continuing the advocacy work so important to the Association. Among his other goals is developing a strategic plan and protecting federal civil service pensions and medical plans. But he is also focusing on the branches. He‘s helping to pull some out of near-dormancy brought on by the pandemic and finding members ready to sit on branch boards to help the branches reach their potential and grow the organization.

The branches, which range in size from 200 to 33,000 members, play a double role, he says. They advance the interests of their members and mobilize them to implement the organization‘s strategic plan.

“We always consider ourselves a grassroots organization,” Goodall says, a year into his presidency. “Branches for the past two years have not been able to do a lot because of COVID.”

After a 39-year career in the army, Goodall transitioned into a second career and became a financial planner and also participated in the Alberta community development‘s not-for-profit governance training program, becoming a facilitator, teaching not-for-profit governance and sitting on boards.

In 2006, he started volunteering for Federal Retirees‘ Calgary board. He went on to become its president and then moved into an Alberta advocacy position, eventually joining the national board as director for the Prairies and NWT from 2014 to 2016. He served as vice-president as of 2016, before becoming president in 2022.

Goodall stepped into the role just as his predecessor finished negotiating the Public Service Health Care Plan renewal. In the end, Goodall signed off on it.

Nearly three decades of service

Jean-Guy Soulière takes great pride in having active roles with the National Association of Federal Retirees for nearly half of its existence.

When Soulière‘s 30 years in the public service concluded in 1994 (he had held a variety of posts, finishing as director-general of human resources with Labour Canada), he launched the next phase of his career, devoting close to three decades working for and advocating on behalf of retirees. It began as executive director of Federal Retirees under Claude Edwards, the president at that time. He remained in that position until 2007.

That year, he was named the first chair of the country‘s National Seniors Council, a position he held until 2013. He then joined Federal Retirees‘ board of directors, becoming president in 2016, and continues to have an active role on the organization‘s advocacy committee.

“It was one of the greatest jobs I ever had,” he says, adding that the rewards of the volunteer position he held for six years as president until 2022 far outweighed the lack of salary. “I kept saying there were a lot of zeros in my salary, including the first digit.”

Last year, Soulière was presented with the association‘s highest honour, the Fred Whitehouse Founder‘s Award, for having made a significant positive impact on the association and Canadians and being recognized as a leader and community builder. It was the first time the award had been bestowed.

A highlight of his time as president, he says, was placing extra emphasis on advocacy. “It‘s always been our raison d‘être, but we didn‘t have as much qualified staff working in that area. So I emphasized that,” he recalls.

Other achievements during his time with Federal Retirees include his involvement in the Public Service Health Care Plan, pushing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s new Liberal government to re-establish a minister of seniors and emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic with a strong organization.

Bringing branches together

For Dennis Jackson, leading Federal Retirees meant ensuring its longevity.

A big focus during Jackson‘s time in the president‘s seat, which he held from 2001 to 2006, involved connecting with branches across the country. He wanted to know how they were performing, if they had members they could call on and what people‘s concerns were.

“It was a good exercise,” the British-born retiree says. “The purpose was to ensure the branches were operating well and to ensure they had sufficient funds.”

Jackson sees his current project with Federal Retirees as an extension of that effort. He is now serving as a B.C. member on the special committee on branch financing, communicating with branches again, which involved circulating a survey last summer. The goal was to examine the financial needs of the branches and find out whether additional funding was necessary.

“The result of that is that we came up with some decisions on additional funding to branches that can be requested by branches if they have a need for it,” he explained. Branches with extra members and those in larger areas where members must travel longer distances are examples of where additional funding might be required. He expects to be involved in a follow-up committee that will spend the next two years examining the effect of that approach and the impact of the extra funding.

Jackson left the public service in 1993 as director of real property for the federal government across the country after having moved to British Columbia from Ottawa as part of the job. He eventually settled in Vancouver where he works as a realtor.

Jackson‘s involvement in the Federal Superannuates National Association (FSNA), now the National Association of Federal Retirees, began in 1996 when the district director of British Columbia recruited him to take over that post. That later led to him becoming president.

“For me, it was basically enjoyable to be part of it and I knew people very well across the country and that was also important,” Jackson says.

Building better bylaws

When Gary Oberg retired from his 27-year RCMP career in Lethbridge with his wife, Margaret, he was invited to the spring 1996 meeting of the FSNA, now Federal Retirees. Intrigued, he attended the next meeting and with a nudge to the ribs from Margaret, he responded to the call for volunteers.

“I enjoyed it…. There is a thought process to it and I was beginning to understand what the Association was all about. And [was keen to work on] anything I could do to make things better, not only for myself and for the members, but also, if I were to pass on, to make life better for my wife in my absence. And this association had some ability to advocate on that behalf. So that‘s why I took it on and have been going ever since,” he recalls.

Nearly three decades later, Oberg remains active and has been enjoying parallel celebrations of both the RCMP‘s sesquicentennial and Federal Retirees‘ 60th anniversary.

Oberg became president of the local branch in his early years with the organization. Recruited in part for his computer skills, Oberg worked to computerize the branch‘s business.

Then he became a national director, which came with a seat on the national board of directors in 2004. After that, he worked through a series of positions and, in 2013, became president of Federal Retirees, a job he held until 2015.

During his time as president, the biggest challenge was adapting Federal Retirees‘ bylaws to conform to the new Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act because it really wasn‘t designed for a group as large as Federal Retirees, which currently has a membership of about 170,000 people.

There would be no perfect fit, so the goal was to find the best fit. And the bylaw review committee, of which he was part, eventually found a solution with new bylaws.

The process involved many trips to Ottawa and travel to branches across the country to determine the goals of the membership. The group had just two years to align itself to new legislation.

“It was a very difficult process,” recalls Oberg, who presented the resolutions at the annual meeting of members and then fielded the resulting questions with the Association‘s governance officer. “Between the two of us, we made that happen.

“We finally got the resolution where our new bylaws were passed. And that was a huge accomplishment, but it was not without a lot of difficulty and consternation because a lot of people had a difficult time adapting to that change.”

Oberg is currently working on his Federal Retirees‘ branch‘s anniversary celebrations and is also a member of the RCMP Veterans‘ Association and treasurer of the local division.

In 2012, Oberg was awarded the Queen‘s Diamond Jubilee Medal for volunteer work with Federal Retirees.


This article appeared in the fall 2023 issue of our in-house magazine, Sage. While you’re here, why not download the full issue and peruse our back issues too?