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Nigel Wright, managing director of Onex Corp., is shown in December of 2004. (Tibor Kolley/Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)
Nigel Wright, managing director of Onex Corp., is shown in December of 2004. (Tibor Kolley/Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail)

Onex executive Nigel Wright becomes Harper's chief of staff Add to ...

Stephen Harper has tapped a Bay Street dealmaker, Nigel Wright, as his new chief of staff, signaling he wants his government to refocus its efforts on the economy.

Mr. Wright, in his mid-40s, is a managing director of Onex Corp., and is considered a bit of a star on Bay St. A lawyer with degrees from Harvard and the University of Toronto, Mr. Wright has previous government experience, having worked in the Mulroney PMO as a speech writer and policy advisor.

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Mr. Harper's office had wanted to wait until Monday to announce Mr. Wright was replacing Guy Giorno for the post, but the rumours began leaking out Thursday night. Conservative Party president John Walsh confirmed the appointment Friday.

"This is a huge coup for the Conservative government," he said. "I think Nigel is one of the brightest and best Canada has to offer and it signals a clear indication that the government is focused on the economy and making sure Canada remains at the head of the pack worldwide."

The Prime Minister's Office remained mum, saying it does not comment on staffing issues. Mr. Wright also declined to speak, saying it's "not part of the job description."

His appointment comes as the Harper government is seen to be drifting and running out of gas. The Conservatives' summer was full of missteps, including their decision to scrap the mandatory long-form census and controversy over Helena Guergis's behaviour and Rahim Jaffer's lobbying activities.

Much of this was blamed on Mr. Giorno. However, insiders say the outgoing chief of staff had a two-year deal with his wife. It was his idea to hire Mr. Wright, according to a source.

The appointment has been in the works for some time. One potential stumbling block, however, was Mr. Wright's stakes in so many companies through Onex and its funds.

According to sources, Mr. Wright has already met with the ethics commissioner, who has gone through his holdings with a "fine-toothed comb." He will be replacing Mr. Giorno after Christmas, but will be arriving in Ottawa sooner as part of the transition process.

On Bay Street, Mr. Wright is known for his grasp of the economy and his prodigious work ethic. Which means officials in the PMO are going to have to get up a lot earlier.

"Nigel is the hardest working person I have ever met," said Dan Nowlan, a senior investment banker at CIBC World Markets. "I came to the office at 5 a.m. to pick something up for a flight a couple of years ago and I bumped into him coming into work after his run."

Mr. Nowlan, a Conservative and a long-time friend of Mr. Wright's, called the appointment "great news for Canada's economic policy."

Another friend, Duncan Dee, Air Canada's chief operating officer, characterized Mr. Wright as a "patriot" who has a "very good nose for the economy and politics and where the two intersect."

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