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Onex Corp president Gerald Schwartz chats with managing director Nigel Wright prior to an appearance before a Senate committee in Ottawa on Nov 2, 1999. (TOM HANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Onex Corp president Gerald Schwartz chats with managing director Nigel Wright prior to an appearance before a Senate committee in Ottawa on Nov 2, 1999. (TOM HANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ethics czar must be joking about PM's chief of staff Add to ...

I see that Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson says the appointment of private-sector executives to serve in Ottawa is not unprecedented. And that checks and balances are in place to deal with situations such as the appointment of Nigel Wright to serve as chief of staff to the prime minister.

No doubt Ms. Dawson has in mind Interchange Canada, which "promotes employee assignments between the federal Public Service and organizations in other sectors both within Canada and internationally."

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However, Nigel Wright will not be serving in a public-service position. He will be serving as chief of staff in the Prime Minister's Office - a very powerful position in a very powerful office. The office is not equivalent to a federal department. The minister, the prime minister, is not a minister like the others - and these days cannot even be said to be simply "first among equals." And the position is not a public service position, though public servants have been seconded to serve in that position in the past.

When I arrived in the PMO to take up my duties, my predecessor, who had come in from the private sector, handed me 41 active files touching on nearly every department in the government. The first thing I did was to farm most of them out to departments. Some of these files were being championed by very powerful people in the private sector, which is how they ended up on the desk of the prime minister's chief of staff. The kinds of people that Mr. Wright has been dealing with, the kinds of people he will be dealing with when he returns to the private sector.

Put me down as a sceptic when it comes to devising conflict of interest rules to deal with his situation.

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