The senior Harper aide who authored a missive to Conservative MPs discouraging their participation in provincial election campaigns has turned around and held a fundraiser at his own home for Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives.
Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, opened up his swank downtown Toronto home to the Ontario Tories last month, playing host at a $250-a-ticket wine and cheese fundraiser for Mike Yen, the PC candidate in Trinity-Spadina.
This summer, Mr. Wright warned federal Tories not to become the story in provincial elections. Now he’s done just that.
Although he may not have practised exactly what he preached, he was likely trying to do his part in helping realize the hopes and dreams of his boss. Prime Minister Stephen Harper mused this summer, while attending a barbecue at Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s home, about a Tory “trifecta” – city hall, Queen’s Park and Ottawa all painted blue.
The fundraiser was held Aug. 29 and was billed on the invitation as a “stimulating wine and cheese reception with several special guests.” Mr. Wright’s name was nowhere on the invitation but his address clearly was. The formal “host” was the Trinity-Spadina provincial riding association .
A Harper official confirmed that Mr. Wright held the fundraiser but noted that the Ontario party leader, Mr. Hudak, did not attend. The official said Mr. Wright broke no ethical rules and that this type of fundraising activity is within all guidelines.
It’s not clear who the special guests were, although Mr. Wright – a high-powered Toronto businessman on leave to serve as the Prime Minister’s right-hand man – could well be considered one of them.
Trinity-Spadina is held federally by Olivia Chow, the widow of Jack Layton. And provincially it has been held since 1999 by NDP MPP Rosario Marchese (who was first elected to the now dissolved constituency of Fort York in 1990). The Liberal candidate is Sarah Thomson.
Just weeks before holding the fundraiser for the Hudak team, Mr. Wright sent out his two-and-a-half page letter to Tory MPs, cabinet ministers and senators, warning against becoming too involved in the various upcoming provincial elections.
“During these elections you may be called upon by a provincial candidate to assist them in their election. Please keep in mind that we do not want the federal government to become a story in any of these elections,” he advised.
However, in provinces where there is only one “conservative option,” he added that “we may all make efforts as individuals on private time to assist the election of that option.”
The letter made clear, too, that any support must be done in a way “that does not impair our ability to maintain appropriate federal-provincial relations and does not bring the federal Government into disrepute.”
Mr. Wright’s Ontario Tory fundraiser was held between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on a Monday night. There was no comment from Mr. Hudak’s team.
This week, Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro – the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister – also attracted controversy for commissioning an Ontario election poll in his riding to counter an earlier one by a local newspaper. His poll showed the Progressive Conservative and Liberal candidate in a tight race.
Mr. Del Mastro apologized for putting the poll on his MP website but not for commissioning it. He said he feared that the newspaper poll, showing the Liberal candidate well ahead, would discourage voters from coming out to the polls on Oct. 6.
The new House rules
At a roast for Peter Milliken on Tuesday night, attended by past and present politicians and several journalists, CTV’s Don Martin joked that he had a bottle of Scotch older than Andrew Scheer.
It was a good line. Mr. Milliken was the longest-serving Speaker of the House of Commons, retiring before the May election. Mr. Scheer, who was elected as his successor when Parliament resumed, is only 32 years old.
But as the new Speaker demonstrated earlier Tuesday, age has nothing to do with control of the Commons.
In the middle of Question Period, Mr. Scheer delivered a smackdown blow to Liberal MP Marc Garneau, cutting him off and moving on to the next questioner after he didn’t like what he heard. It was harsh punishment as the Liberals – now the third party – are allowed to pose precious few questions in the House.
Mr. Garneau was asking about the controversy swirling around Industry Minister Tony Clement and the infrastructure projects that went to his riding ahead of the G8 summit last summer. “Mr. Speaker, I personally entered politics to counter the public’s perception that politicians are on the take. Regrettably, [Mr. Clement] is making that extremely difficult,” he said.
Mr. Scheer took no time to reply: “There is a long-standing tradition that you cannot do indirectly what you are not allowed to do directly. This is the second time I have heard an indirect way of making an unparliamentary remark so I think we will move on to [NDP MP Joe Comartin].”
The Speaker’s admonishment prompted this congratulatory tweet from Mr. Scheer’s caucus colleague, Heritage Minister James Moore: “Bravo Speaker Scheer for confronting the Liberals' insults & childish name calling in Question Period.”