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Kouvalis still on campaign team for Conservative leadership, Leitch says

Nick Kouvalis is pictured in Toronto on Sept. 28, 2010.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Conservative MP Kellie Leitch says her former campaign manager Nick Kouvalis is still involved in her bid for the party leadership.

"He's a volunteer on my campaign now, yes he is," Ms. Leitch said in an interview this week.

"He stepped down as campaign manager. I think I've been pretty clear, with respect to it being for his health. It was a decision made by himself and his family, and I support that."

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Mr. Kouvalis resigned as Ms. Leitch's campaign manager earlier this month, announcing he had become a "distraction to the campaign" following a string of controversies related to his online behaviour, including using the term "cuck" in a post on Twitter. The derisive term, short for cuckold, is used by supporters of the far-right ideology known as the "alt-right," which many associate with white nationalism.

"When a member of a campaign team becomes the focus of media coverage, the time comes to resign," Mr. Kouvalis said in a Feb. 2 post on Facebook. "The campaign should be solely about the candidate and their plans, not their staff's beliefs, nor their staff's conduct."

The long-time political strategist also said the pressures that come with a stressful campaign leadership role "are not conducive to my personal well-being." He didn't elaborate, although he has been open about his battle with alcohol in the past and took a leave from Ms. Leitch's campaign last spring after being charged with drunk driving. Toronto Mayor John Tory, for whom Mr. Kouvalis worked in 2014, explicitly cited alcohol addiction in a statement about Mr. Kouvalis's resignation, although he didn't rule out working with Mr. Kouvalis in the future.

Ms. Leitch said she was "very clear" with Mr. Kouvalis that his health and family come first.

"But yes, he's still supporting my campaign," she said.

Mr. Kouvalis, who helped get populist Rob Ford elected mayor of Toronto in 2010, was one of the most ardent supporters of Ms. Leitch's proposal to screen immigrants for Canadian values, an idea she has continued to promote in her campaign.

Ms. Leitch has also recently taken aim at Liberal MP Iqra Khalid's motion M-103, which condemns Islamophobia and "all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination." Citing concerns about freedom of speech, Ms. Leitch started a website called "Stop M-103," which features the image of a young woman with "M-103" taped across her mouth over a faint photo of RCMP officers during the 2014 Parliament Hill shooting.

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Some had suggested the image of the woman on Ms. Leitch's website had been photoshopped to change her eye colour from brown to blue, but Ms. Leitch said that wasn't the case. "My understanding from our webmaster is that the stock photo was put up as it was provided to us," she said.

As for why there was an image from the shooting in the background, Ms. Leitch said, "I think our RCMP officers that day were protecting our Canadian democracy."

When asked this week if Mr. Kouvalis is still giving her campaign advice, Ms. Leitch said, "He's a volunteer like everybody else. I have 1,500 volunteers out there.… I get e-mails and information from many of them every single day."

"I have a new leadership campaign," she said, noting that campaign co-chairs Sander Grieve, a Toronto corporate lawyer, and Dany Renauld, the head of a Quebec-based marketing and advertising firm, along with retired Conservative senator Consiglio Di Nino, have "stepped up to fill the gap."

Ms. Leitch's campaign confirmed that Mr. Kouvalis's business partner Richard Ciano is still working for Ms. Leitch as her chief strategist. Mr. Kouvalis and Mr. Ciano are principals of marketing research firm Campaign Research, and have years of experience running political call centres.

Mr. Kouvalis did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. His last tweet was posted on Feb. 2, the day he resigned from Ms. Leitch's campaign.

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