Liberals appoint a new veterans 'ombudsperson'

Canada has a new veterans ombudsman — or rather (to use the Liberal government's preferred title), a new veterans "ombudsperson."
The Trudeau government is tapping Craig Dalton, who previously served in Afghanistan and commanded Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, as Canada's new veterans' 'ombudsperson.' (Bill Graveland/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada has a new veterans ombudsman — or rather (to use the Liberal government's preferred title), a new veterans "ombudsperson."

The appointment of Craig Dalton was announced late Wednesday by Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan, who thanked the outgoing ombudsman, Guy Parent, after his five-year term ended on Sunday.

Dalton served 25 years in the Canadian Army, which included a stint as the commander of the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar and later as chief of staff for Task Force Kandahar.

More recently, the retired colonel and former artillery gunner was the provincial deputy minister of Family and Social Services on Prince Edward Island.

Dalton is the third person to hold the post, which was created by the former Conservative government in 2007 to answer a rising number of complaints about government services coming from the veterans community.

The first ombudsman, retired colonel Pat Stogran, made waves on the way out the door in 2010 by accusing Veterans Affairs of "penny-pinching" on the backs of former soldiers.

He was replaced by Parent, a former chief warrant officer of the military, whose term was extended for three years just before the Conservatives were voted out of office in 2015.

The Liberal government asked him to step aside the following year. Parent refused and served out his term.

An investigation by the ombudsman's office, released last week, uncovered a $165 million accounting error at Veterans Affairs stretching back to the early 2000s. The mistake involved the indexing calculation of disability awards and benefits.

It was Parent's last report.

The Liberal government intends to reimburse veterans for the missing funds, beginning in 2020.

The use of the title 'ombudsperson' is an attempt by the federal government to embrace gender-neutral language. The government issued a directive earlier this year to front-line staff at Service Canada, who answer questions from the public about services such as social insurance and Old Age Security, to begin conversations by using gender-inclusive language.

That caused an uproar in the House of Commons, where the Conservative Opposition described the department's policy as "ridiculous."

Ombudsman is Swedish for "legal representative." There has been debate in recent years over whether it needs a gender-neutral form, and what form it might take.

Some jurisdictions, including some provinces and universities, have embraced the term 'ombudsperson' or simply 'ombud'.

Earlier this year, Global Affairs adopted the term when it created the office of Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, tasked with investigating allegations of human rights abuses linked to Canadian corporate activity abroad.

CBC News' language guide encourages the use of "terms that do not exclude either sex," but the title 'ombudsman' is still used for the office that investigates complaints against the broadcaster.

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