The Conservative government created the position of veterans ombudsman three years ago and installed Patrick Stogran, an outspoken retired colonel, as the first one. Now it has told him that his contract is not being renewed. It seems clear that the passionate Mr. Stogran was willing to move Heaven and Earth to help veterans. But whether he had the skills and judgment to succeed in moving two other imposing forces - the veterans affairs bureaucracy, and government policy affecting veterans - is less clear.
This government has shown a pattern of discomfort with the watchdogs on federal payrolls. It has dismissed or not renewed the contracts of some estimable people. Peter Tinsley headed the Military Police Complaints Commission, a quasi-judicial body. He once chaired a body in Kosovo that recruited and disciplined prosecutors and judges. His qualifications and performance were impeccable. Linda Keen was the president of the Nuclear Safety Commission. Paul Kennedy ran the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. All tangled with government. By its actions, Ottawa invited the inference that it could not tolerate the challenges that are simply part of the jobs these officials held.
From the government's standpoint, the optics are not good in letting Mr. Stogran go. The government has staked a great deal on its support of the Canadian military in Afghanistan. Mr. Stogran has gone to bat for Afghan veterans. Only recently, he was one of them, as commander of the 3rd Battalion of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan in 2002. But he may have burnt some bridges rather quickly. This week he publicly quoted an unnamed Treasury Board official as having said that dead soldiers cost less than disabled ones, a comment (whether it was actually made or not) that may give the false impression that the Canadian government prefers it that way. He also said if government won't get behind the soldiers, it should get in front of them.
"I think that Pat's usual forthright way of looking at issues and making comments got him into a position where he could not work effectively with public servants or, more to the point, they could not work effectively with him," says Douglas Bland, the chair of defence management studies at the Queen's University School of Policy Studies.
There are different ways to be an ombudsman, but all of them involve taking up a cudgel on behalf of people with relatively little power. Mr. Stogran took up a cudgel for those who put their lives at risk for their country. As for a successor, Ottawa should be prepared to accept an equally passionate defender of veterans' interests.