Federal veterans ombudsman abruptly resigns

Veterans ombudsman Craig Dalton, a respected former colonel in the army, has abruptly quit the position. He was barely half way through his federally-appointed term and apparently has an undisclosed job offer. He made waves last summer by suggesting the ombudsman's mandate needed to be reviewed because veterans had lost trust.

Craig Dalton had been in the job for just 18 months

Canada's veterans ombudsman, retired colonel Craig Dalton, has said he fears his office has lost the trust of some segments of the veterans community. (CBC News/Murray Brewster)

The country's veteran's ombudsman has resigned less than halfway through his term, the federal government announced Monday.

Retired colonel Craig Dalton, a 25-year veteran of the Canadian army, only held the watchdog post for a little over 18 months.

Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced the ombudsman's departure in a media statement, suggesting that Dalton was leaving for another job.

Dalton's split with the department appears to be amicable. The minister wished him well and praised his accomplishments, saying "Dalton demonstrated exceptional leadership and showed care, compassion and respect for our veterans and their families." 

The process of selecting a new ombudsman is underway, MacAulay added.

Dalton was the country's third veteran's watchdog — a position created almost 13 years ago by the former Conservative government in response to a rising number of complaints about government services coming from the veterans community.

Last winter, Dalton went to bat for families of injured soldiers who had been cut off from counselling benefits because of a sweeping re-interpretation of the federal department's long-standing policy.

More significantly, perhaps, Dalton made it clear to the Liberal government last summer that he believed the mandate of the veterans ombudsman should be reviewed because he felt the watchdog's office had lost the trust of some former soldiers and their families.

He wanted an independent review to look at, among other things, whether the ombudsman should report directly to Parliament rather than to the veterans minister.

Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Minister Lawrence MacAulay responds to a question in the House of Commons February 3, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Dalton based his assessment on what said he'd heard while criss-crossing the country for meetings with veterans groups, advocates and individual former soldiers.

In many cases, he said, he received an earful from people who told him they felt it was a waste of time to step forward with complaints.

"I am concerned with what has been reflected to me around lack of trust in our office, questioning what value we offer to veterans, noting that we're not independent enough to generate confidence in veterans," Dalton told CBC News. "That's something that is important and we need to look at it."

He said at the time that there was a growing belief among veterans that the ombudsman's office doesn't have the jurisdiction or the independence to deal with the most pressing personal and systemic issues facing former military and RCMP members.

"Having our office report to the legislature is certainly something I think is worth looking at," said Dalton, who was not prepared at the time to recommend that the veterans ombudsman become a full-fledged officer of Parliament, similar to the auditor general and the parliamentary budget officer.

MacAulay said last summer he believed such a review would be a good idea, but was fuzzy on whether the watchdog should report directly to Parliament.

Shortly after Dalton's remarks, last fall's federal election was called and the matter was dropped.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.