New chief of staff Ray Novak has long ties to Harper

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

From left, Prime Minister Stephen Harper with staffers Dimitri Soudas, Mike Beaton, and Ray Novak during the election campaign, April 9, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

With every departure from the Prime Minister’s Office, Ray Novak cements his status as the longest-serving aide to Stephen Harper. Only this time, the 36-year-old not only has the most seniority, he also has the top job after moving into the position of chief of staff on Sunday.

Mr. Novak worked as a researcher at the National Citizens Coalition when Mr. Harper was the organization’s president, and he moved to Ottawa to serve as his executive assistant when Mr. Harper became the leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2002. In that position, Mr. Novak travelled everywhere with Mr. Harper, a position where he showcased his efficiency and unflinching loyalty. Mr. Novak went beyond the job’s unofficial description as a suitcase carrier, earning Mr. Harper’s trust with the sound advice that he dispensed during all the hours that they spent side by side.

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Mr. Novak became like family in the Harper household during their time in opposition, staying in a loft above the garage at Stornoway.

Once Mr. Harper took power in 2006, Mr. Novak stayed by his side and moved up the ranks in the PMO, being named to the number-two position of principal secretary in 2008. He has sat in on bilateral meetings with world leaders and has been the lead on a number of key files, such as evacuating Canadians from Middle East countries during turbulent periods and selecting a new governor-general.

Mr. Novak’s principal qualities, according to some of his Conservative colleagues in Ottawa, are that he is discreet and low profile, with an astute ability for a political adviser to stay under the radar. He has a keen understanding of Mr. Harper’s thoughts and needs, and knows how to translate them for the rest of the staff.

“He has no side agenda,” said one of his former colleagues. “He always puts the Prime Minister’s genuine interests first.”

As chief of staff, Mr. Novak is expanding on his current responsibilities, instead of being cast in a new role. He will now spend more time dealing with the Privy Council Office and the cabinet, while continuing to offer his thoughts on the issues of the day to the Prime Minister. Mr. Novak is specialized in issues dealing with foreign affairs and defence, and will now have to add economic and financial matters to his plate.

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