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NEWS: Harper’s chief of staff resigns in scandal

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has accepted the resignation of his chief of staff Nigel Wright.

The Toronto Star reports this hour, “In his own statement, Wright confirmed he was quitting because of the furor surrounding his payment to (Senator Mike) Duffy, meant to cover the senator’s repayment of improperly claimed expenses.”

“Wright’s announcement is the latest resignation to rock Harper’s administration. Duffy quit the Conservative caucus because of the $90,000 payment and questions around whether he had double-dipped, collecting Senate expenses while campaigning for Conservative candidates in the last election. …On Friday, Sen. Pamela Wallin quit the Conservatives caucus as she awaits the outcome of an audit into her own travel expenses.”

This isn’t the first scandal faced by Wright.

Yesterday, CBC reported, “Last year, (Wright) was reviewed (by the parliamentary ethics officer) because he had been lobbied by Barrick Gold three times while working in the Prime Minister’s Office. Wright is friends with Barrick Gold founder Peter Munk, and his son, Anthony, who worked with Wright at Onex.” The Canadian Press noted, “According to a report summary filed by Barrick with the federal lobbying commissioner, someone from the company — the report does not identify who — contacted Wright on May 14 to discuss international relations and international trade. Nine days later, a second report indicates, Barrick talked to Wright again on the same subject matter — this time along with Harper’s foreign policy adviser, Andrea van Vugt, and his principal secretary, Ray Novak, who is Harper’s point man on government-to-government relations.”

Novak’s participation in this meeting with Barrick is significant in that he will now replace Wright as Harper’s chief of staff.

Wright had also irked members of the Conservative caucus. Last June, the Globe and Mail reported, “Harper has parachuted Wright to help steer efforts aimed at winning U.S. approval for Canada to join talks on a trans-Pacific free-trade zone. It’s an unusual move given that International Trade Minister Ed Fast normally leads the file…”

Wright had been on leave as a managing director at Onex, the largest private sector employer in Canada. Onex owns or manages companies such as Indigo, Cineplex, Allison Transmission, Hawker Beechcraft and ResCare. It is estimated that he was paid about $2 million annually in salary and bonuses at Onex. It is expected that he will now return to his previous role there.

More to come.