Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s controversial campaign manager abruptly resigned Thursday, saying he has become a “distraction to the campaign.”
Long-time political strategist Nick Kouvalis made the announcement in a Facebook post, two days after Ms. Leitch told The Globe and Mail she stood by her campaign manager after he apologized for using the term “cuck” – a derisive term that is short for cuckold – on Twitter. The term is used by supporters of the far-right ideology known as the “alt-right,” which many associate with white nationalism.
Ms. Leitch has been singled out by critics and Conservative opponents for importing what they say are the divisive politics of the Trump campaign in the United States – most notably her proposal to screen immigrants for “Canadian values.”
Mr. Kouvalis used the term “cuck” last weekend in a tweet to insult a professor as part of an exchange about the values test. In his statement, Mr. Kouvalis said he resigned because “it has become clear that I have become a distraction to the campaign.”
“When a member of a campaign team becomes the focus of media coverage, the time comes to resign,” Mr. Kouvalis wrote. “The campaign should be solely about the candidate and their plans, not their staff’s beliefs, nor their staff’s conduct. It has also become clear to me that the pressures that come with a stressful campaign leadership role are not conducive to my personal wellbeing.”
Mr. Kouvalis didn’t specify what he meant by well-being and did not return phone messages Thursday night. But he has been open about his battle with alcohol: A drunk-driving charge forced him to take a leave from the Leitch campaign in the spring.
In a statement, Ms. Leitch said she understands and respects Mr. Kouvalis’s decision to focus on his family and well-being. “I am proud of the thousands of volunteers, donors, and supporters who have come behind my vision for Canada,” she said. “We have a strong campaign and team thanks to Nick’s efforts.”
Mr. Kouvalis was one of the most ardent defenders of the values test. In her statement about his departure, Ms. Leitch referenced Canadian values but also the elimination of the carbon tax, and getting government spending under control.
When asked whether she is shifting away from her focus on Canadian values, her spokesman said: “Kellie will continue to talk about the many issues she has been championing during the course of this campaign.”
Active on social media, Mr. Kouvalis also recently admitted to spreading false information about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “to make the left go nuts.”
Mr. Kouvalis, who helped get populist Rob Ford elected mayor of Toronto in 2010, also worked on the 2014 election campaign of Toronto Mayor John Tory.
Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Toronto's mayor said he spoke with Mr. Kouvalis Thursday night to encourage him to deal with his "personal issues," calling him a friend.
When asked if he would cut ties with his onetime key strategist, Mr. Tory would not expressly say whether or not Mr. Kouvalis was welcome to work on his 2018 re-election campaign, noting that the assembling of any campaign team remains many months away.
"There is no campaign. There is no tie, other than him as a friend. And I would say as a friend and someone who has assisted me in the past, I owe it to him to give him a chance to deal with his personal issues," the mayor said.
He added that he completely rejects "the approaches that have been taken in this campaign [Mr. Kouvalis] has just resigned from" and said he would "sooner lose the election than adopt some of the approaches that we've seen in recent times that are not consistent with my values."
Asked how he could find common ground with someone who used the offensive American far-right term "cuck" on Twitter, Mr. Tory noted that Mr. Kouvalis had apologized.
"I have said it was unacceptable, it is unacceptable, and it will be unacceptable for anybody, anybody at all, including him, to do anything like that," the mayor said. "And those are the kinds of things I am going to have to take into account when it comes to putting a campaign team together."
Mr. Tory said he would never engage in "anything that divides people" calling immigration and diversity "blessings" for his city: "Those are my core values. People know that."
He also said Mr. Kouvalis was not currently advising him as mayor: "People grossly overestimate the degree to which that I have dealings with him. I talk to him once in a while ... but the answer is that he has no role in my office."
In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Leitch told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Kouvalis apologized for his “cuck” tweet without her prompting him.
“I know he is genuine in his apology. And I think we all can relate to saying things when we didn’t necessarily mean to say them in the heat of the moment. And I know that he’s reflected on this,” she said.
“It’s a measure of a person when they can reflect on something and then apologize. And I’m glad that he did that.”
When asked whether she was prepared to keep him on her campaign, Ms. Leitch answered: “Yes, I am.”
With a report from Jeff Gray in TorontoReport Typo/Error