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Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Guy Giorno, appears before the Commons ethics committee in Ottawa on April 13, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Guy Giorno, appears before the Commons ethics committee in Ottawa on April 13, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Jane Taber

PM's reclusive right-hand man <br/>emerges briefly from the shadows Add to ...

So that's what he looks like. His hair is greyer than expected and the eyes are a little baggier but there was Guy Giorno, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, in living colour appearing before MPs this morning.

Mr. Giorno was a witness - the star witness - at the ethics committee dealing with interference by Conservative ministerial aides into access to information requests.

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This is the first time he has appeared before a committee since he took over in July, 2008, as Stephen Harper's right-hand man.

On Parliament Hill, Mr. Giorno, 44, is a shadowy figure. He is rarely seen but his influence is felt everywhere. Conversely, he is blamed for everything bad that happens to the Harper government.

It is interesting, then, to see him in action.

Serious and strategic, he did make an effort today to warm up the committee crowd with a little introductory background, including the fact that at the ripe old age of 14 he worked for Liberal candidate Joe Cruden, who ran unsuccessfully in Etobicoke against the Conservative, Michael Wilson.

Such a small world - Michael Ignatieff's chief of staff, Peter Donolo, is married to Mary Cruden, Joe Cruden's daughter. Mr. Giorno switched to the Conservative Party by the time he had left high school.

(In an email today, Mr. Donolo wrote about their connections: "Obviously, he showed a lot of promise as a youngster. Where did he go wrong? P.S. I was 14 when I worked on my first campaign too - 1974 in Mount Royal … PE Trudeau was the candidate.")

Mr. Giorno has been described by critics as hyper-partisan and hyper-aggressive. His testimony today fit that description: "The premise is flawed," he said, curtly tossing off a Bloc MP's question.

Asked by NDP MP Bill Siksay if the PMO yells at minister's offices "when more information is released than the PMO thinks appropriate," Mr. Giorno did not answer with a simple yes or no.

"My expectation and the Prime Minister's expectation is his rules be upheld. And the rules of an accountable government are quite clear - access to information is the public's right."

Unflappable and measured, he said political staffers are not involved in the process. "It would therefore follow that one should not suffer any of the consequences of observing the standards of an accountable government."

So that means no one got yelled at?

The expected softball question came from the expected source. In fact, there really wasn't much of a question.

Rather, Pierre Poilievre, the Prime Minister's eager parliamentary secretary, praised Mr. Giorno for appearing and for the "improvements to access to information the country has see."

A few more questions and that was that. The meeting adjourned, Mr. Giorno was back in the shadows, able to return to his office.

(Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

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