The Duffy Affair: Harper approves of Chief of Staff’s actions

Julian Wolfe
May 17th, 2013

Controversy may be mounting around the now independent senator Mike Duffy but as far as Prime Minister Stephen Harper is concerned, his chief of staff Nigel Wright still has his full confidence. There is no word on whether Wright offered his resignation but it’s great to know that a scandal that acts to orchestrate a cover up of a senator’s wrong doing is fine by “tough on crime” PM Harper.

Harper’s office said in a statement that chief of staff Nigel Wright still enjoys the full confidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper despite recent explosive news unravelling a scandal bigger than housing allowance.

The controversy began with Duffy claiming $90,172 in inappropriate housing allowance expenses which then became the spotlight of the media. First, Duffy refused to speak to the media, telling reporters at an Energy conference out east that there were more adult matters to deal with, then he said he did nothing wrong but would repay the money, then he wavered on repayment. But the controversy exploded when the PMO confirmed Harper’s right hand man and chief of staff reached an agreement and allow the government to be lenient on Duffy and paid off his housing allowance fees in a gift.

It is still not known why a man as rich as Mike Duffy couldn’t pay the abuses himself but the fact Harper’s right hand man would bail out and protect a man who committed fraud has shown the PMO orchestrated the entire event. Duffy’s repayment before the audit was complete led to a barrage of political attacks where the government tried to pin the only Liberal in the housing allowance scandal as the bad guy while praising their pal Mike Duffy’s leadership. Duffy has since resigned his spot in the Conservative caucus but will remain an independent senator.

Meanwhile, Harper’s former communications director Dimitri Soudas offered his voice, defending Wright.

“These claims about Duffy’s expenses didn’t pass the smell test and Nigel clearly could not allow them to be left on the taxpayers’ tab. Duffy obviously didn’t have the means to repay immediately. Nigel has known Duffy for a long time — since the 1980s — and felt strongly about his situation and wanted to do the right thing. I can tell you one thing, and I’ve known Nigel for years now, he’s a salt of the earth kind of guy —so let’s take what he did for what it is, a nice gesture by a good person. Sometimes, good people end up in politics, and when Nigel leaves politics, it won’t have changed him, he will have remained a good, honest person. We need more Nigels in politics because he embodies the true meaning of public service.”

Wright became Harper’s chief of staff in 2010 and entered a wealthy business man. He was the managing director of Onex earning over $2 million per year. Onex is the largest private sector employer in Canada, managing companies like Indigo, Cineplex, Allison Transmission, Hawker Beechcraft and ResCare.

In spite of taking a major pay cut, Wright told the ethics committee that looked into his nomination, “Public policy has been a passion of mine. For three decades I’ve had some involvement in the political process.”

He cited his first involvement in politics as being a speechwriter for Brian Mulroney after he left law school.

He described being Harper’s right hand man “A once-in-a-lifetime privilege, impossible to do anything with other than say yes.”

And Wright said his and Harper’s values align in every way.

Wright has since taken absence from the Onex, and his company said that no timeline has been specified.

“We understand that Nigel intends to return to Onex after his time as [the PM’s] chief of staff and we’re looking forward to that, but will not speculate on timing.”

A Political Science Teacher at the University of Toronto Nelson Wiseman said the Chief of Staff acts as the “eyes, ear, and nose” of the Prime Minister.

Nelson said Wright has been the most competent Chief of Staff Harper has had but warned it would be “unwelcome to the PMO” if Wright’s name was spotlighted daily.

Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson will be looking into Wright’s cheque to Duffy, and it won’t be the first time her attention has been put on him. Last year, his friend Barrick Gold, founder of Peter Munk, lobbied him three times. Gold’s son Anthony worked with Wright at Onex.

On Wednesday, CBC learned Dawson cancelled the investigation into Gold as “she no longer had reason to believe that Mr. Wright had contravened the Conflict of Interest Act. She did not issue a report.”

So a wealthy man with quite a background is the “eyes, ear, and nose” of the Prime Minister and has paid the housing allowance expenses of a disgraced senator. His actions controlled Duffy’s public announcements and his following actions. What do you think of Harper’s extended confidence into Wright? Is it a sign that their values are identical, as Wright claimed? What does it say of Harper’s judgement as the Prime Minister, and who he chooses to call the shots?

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   Categories: Accountability, Integrity, Political Interference, Scandal, The Duffy Affair

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