POLITICS

Veterans Watchdog Guy Parent Staying Put Despite Liberal Demands To Step Down

01/07/2016 04:47 EST | Updated 01/07/2017 05:12 EST

OTTAWA — Canada's veterans ombudsman says he'll stay at his post, even though the new Liberal government has asked him to step aside.

Guy Parent said he has a lot to accomplish during the three-year renewal of his mandate, approved in the waning hours of the Conservative government — and he insists he was never a partisan actor.

"I don't see my appointment as a political appointment," Parent said Thursday, noting that he has already informed the Liberal government that he plans to carry on with his duties.

Just before Christmas, Liberal House leader Dominic LeBlanc sent letters to 33 Harper government appointees requesting that they step aside or turn down their early reappointments. He also suggested the rejected candidates compete for the positions.

Five years ago, Parent competed for the job after the Conservative government refused to reappoint the country's first veterans ombudsman, retired colonel Pat Stogran.

guy parent

Veterans Ombudsman Guy Parent speaks to reporters in Ottawa. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)

"It was a competitive process from the start. I did apply for the job; I competed for the job," said Parent, a former chief warrant officer in the military.

"I was selected from amongst people who were qualified, so I see myself as having made a commitment to the veterans community."

Some of the Conservative appointments were made well in advance of the end of their terms.

The Liberals, as they have done in other instances, backed down. Parent has the full support of Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr, spokesman Christian Duval said in a statement.

"In the last months, Minister Hehr has built a fruitful working relationship with the ombudsman and he looks forward to continue working with Mr. Parent and receiving his insight, advice and recommendations," Duval said.

Parent's initial five-year term was set to expire in November, almost immediately after the federal election, but the Harper government quietly approved an extension on July 28, just days before the election was called.

There are some in the veterans community who applauded the Liberal demand for the ombudsman to step aside, accusing Parent of being too cosy with the former Conservative government.

"I see myself as having made a commitment to the veterans community."

At the time of his reappointment, high-profile veterans advocate Sean Bruyea said the ombudsman's position was originally intended to be a five-year, non-renewable position. Cabinet records posted online show that provision was quietly changed on June 5, 2015, to allow the term to be renewed.

A committee of MPs should be established to review reappointments and evaluate the record of incumbent watchdogs, Bruyea said.

Parent said the Liberals have acknowledged his position and indicated that his appointment might go to a parliamentary committee for review, but the all-party committee does not have the authority to remove appointees.

The ombudsman is expected to be both an adviser to the minister and an advocate for veterans and their interests.

Critics have said Parent advises too much and advocates too little.

His understated style has stood in contrast to his predecessor, Stogran, who near the end of his tenure fought several high-profile, public battles with the Harper government and a veterans bureaucracy he accused of "penny-pinching" and "nickel and diming" ex-soldiers.

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Parent stood by his record and said he believes he's pushed the government into some significant reforms, some of which were introduced by the former Conservative government as part of a series of changes last spring.

"You influence progress in different ways," Parent said.

"I think a lot of those people maybe considered the approach of my predecessor as the approach to be used in dealing with government. We have different personalities; different style of leadership."

Parent says the Liberals have acknowledged his position and indicated that his appointment might go to a parliamentary committee for review, but the government does not have the authority to remove appointees.

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