Patrick Muttart, a key Harper campaign strategist, has suddenly left the Conservative campaign after reports that he tried to improperly spin a negative story about Michael Ignatieff to Sun Media.
The Conservatives confirmed Wednesday morning that Mr. Muttart is no longer part of the Tory team. He had been in Ottawa part time working on the campaign, providing insight and strategy on ads and messaging, since the writ was dropped in late March.
But this week - with just days to go before the May 2 vote - Mr. Muttart returned to Chicago, where he works at a public affairs and political strategy firm , according to a source. He has been replaced - somewhat - by Dan Robertson, who has been working also on ads and messaging but has been based in Toronto for the election campaign.
"Mr. Muttart has no further role in our campaign," party spokesman Alykhan Velshi told The Globe.
Mr. Muttart has been credited as the whiz kid on the Harper team that brought the Conservatives their election victories in 2006 and 2008. He had also served as Mr. Harper's deputy chief of staff but left a few years ago for Chicago.
Before that he had worked as a consultant in Toronto. And he once travelled - on his own - to Australia to study the John Howard campaign. As Globe writer Michael Valpy noted in a 2008 article, "He is known for his brilliance at creating disciplined, well-researched and powerful visual representations of complex political ideas."
But he ran afoul of Quebecor's Pierre Karl Péladeau, who owns the Sun newspapers and TV network. The media titan exposed him Wednesday as the source on a story about the Liberal Leader.
In his Sun newspapers, Mr. Péladeau wrote that a package of information, including a photograph purportedly of Mr. Ignatieff in Kuwait in 2002, was given to Sun Media honcho Kory Teneycke, a former Harper spokesman, by Mr. Muttart.
"He claimed to be in possession of a report prepared by a 'U.S. source', outlining the activities and whereabouts of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff in the weeks and months leading to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003," Mr. Péladeau wrote.
According to Mr. Velshi, the Tory campaign "provided Sun Media with information that had been acquired during Internet research, namely a photograph described as that of Mr. Ignatieff. The campaign made clear to Sun Media that the identity in the photograph could not be verified and that our own efforts to verify the photograph had been exhausted."