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Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, posted this picture from Peru on his Facebook page in September, 2013.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, posted this picture from Peru on his Facebook page in September, 2013.

Behind Nigel Wright's fateful decision that darkened the Senate Add to ...

“The PM knows, in broad terms only, that I personally assisted Duffy ...” replied Mr. Wright.

That night, CTV reported that Mr. Wright had personally intervened, with a “secret deal” to help Mr. Duffy repay his expenses, and the issue blew open.

The RCMP now allege that it was altogether enough to warrant a criminal investigation, though no charges have been laid. Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright are now the subject of an investigation by the Mounties, who accuse them of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Mr. Duffy has been suspended from the Senate without pay.

For Mr. Wright, the damage has been severe. The man once considered indispensable, sitting with the Prime Minister at the apex of Canada’s political system, didn’t just lose his job. As Mr. Harper struggles to contain political damage from a steady drip of allegations, he has cut Mr. Wright loose – accusing him of “deception” and laying the sole responsibility for the affair on his, and Mr. Duffy’s, shoulders.

“There are two individuals who are responsible and who are under investigation,” Mr. Harper told a news conference in Winnipeg Friday. “As we said from the outset, they are Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright, and we will do everything to make sure the investigation proceeds and those who acted improperly are held accountable.”

The man behind the money

As chief of staff, Nigel Wright was Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s top aide and economic adviser. He knew his boss for decades and commanded respect as few others could. Until he joined the Prime Minister’s Office in 2010, he was a universally respected broker of multimillion-dollar deals for Onex Corp., the private-equity giant. But he also has a long history as a political operative. He has quietly been active at every stage in the evolution of the modern Conservative Party – he was one of three founding directors of Conservative Fund Canada, which supervises party financing.

Described by his peers as both diligent and a workaholic, Mr. Wright was born in Hamilton and raised in Burlington. He attended the University of Toronto’s Trinity College with contemporaries that included Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion (now BlackBerry) and writer and thinker Malcolm Gladwell. After graduating in 1988 from U of T’s law school, he went on to a master’s degree at Harvard.

Did he resign or was he fired?

Mr. Wright offered to resign at the outset of the Senate scandal, shortly after revelations that he gave a $90,000 cheque to personally refund Senator Mike Duffy’s illegitimate expense claims, sources told The Globe in May. But Stephen Harper initially refused the offer, as the Prime Minister and his office decided to weather the storm, with Mr. Harper sending out the message that he stood by his top aide. Mr. Wright issued a resignation statement May 19 – a day after his 50th birthday – accepting “sole responsibility” and saying he did “not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.”

In October, Mr. Harper changed his story, saying Mr. Wright was fired. “As you know I had a chief of staff who made an inappropriate payment to Mr. Duffy,” Mr. Harper said in a Halifax radio interview. “He was dismissed.”

Two days later, struggling to deal with new allegations in the controversy, Mr. Harper upped the ante, accusing Mr. Wright of “deception.” Since then, friends and former business associates of the veteran Bay Street executive have rallied to his defence. “I talk to a lot of people by virtue of my work,” Tom Long, a friend and managing director at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates in Toronto, told The Globe. “People’s fundamental view of him hasn’t been altered one iota. Not one iota.”

Editor's Note: The original version of this story attributed the quote "would the PM know the actual answer this story, just in case he asked us," to then PMO communications director Andrew MacDougall. It is now correctly attributed to PMO Press Secretary Carl Vallee .

 

 

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