Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer abruptly ended a news conference and stopped taking questions from reporters on Monday when asked whether he was aware his campaign manager had worked out of the Rebel office during his leadership run.
Hamish Marshall, Mr. Scheer's former campaign manager, told The Globe and Mail in response to an inquiry that he shared Toronto office space with the right-wing website during the Tory leadership race, which ended on May 27, when Mr. Scheer won by a razor-thin margin over Conservative MP Maxime Bernier.
Mr. Marshall is president of Torch Agency, a company that provides digital and research services.
"I didn't ask Hamish about every client he had," Mr. Scheer told reporters before walking out of his own media availability about the Liberal tax changes in Ottawa. "He has a variety of clients. He's a small-business owner himself, and I asked him to do a job and he helped me out on my campaign."
A Conservative spokesman later clarified that Mr. Scheer was aware the Rebel was one of Mr. Marshall's clients, but not of the specifics of the arrangement.
Although it has been reported that Mr. Marshall was a director of the Rebel and once worked in the same office, it had not previously been disclosed that he did so during Mr. Scheer's leadership campaign.
"It was my office. That's where I worked from. That's where my Toronto office was run," Mr. Marshall recently told The Globe. When asked if that meant he did campaign work for Mr. Scheer at the Rebel office, Mr. Marshall said, "Did I take phone calls and stuff? I mean, what's campaign work, right? Did I take a phone call while I was there? Sure."
The new Tory Leader is trying to distance himself from the right-wing website after a string of controversies.
The Rebel came under intense scrutiny over its coverage of protests in Charlottesville, Va., in August. The coverage was criticized by some as sympathetic to the white nationalists who organized the event, at which a counterprotester was killed and nearly 20 others injured.
Mr. Scheer said later in August that he would do no further interviews with the conservative news outlet until it changes its editorial direction.
Retiring Conservative MP Gerry Ritz recently apologized for calling Environment Minister Catherine McKenna "climate Barbie" on Twitter, a nicknamed used by the Rebel. Although he did not address it in the Commons, Mr. Scheer later called Ms. McKenna to apologize.
Mr. Marshall was previously listed on federal incorporation records as a director of the Rebel. His name has since been removed and he said he is "wrapping up his involvement" with the company.
When asked if he ever discussed campaign matters with Rebel employees, Mr. Marshall said, "No, they weren't involved."
Mr. Marshall played down his involvement on the Scheer campaign, telling The Globe Mr. Scheer never paid him directly but rather hired his company to provide services.
"The campaign title is just words to put after an e-mail signature," he said.
Mr. Marshall said he and Mr. Scheer never held a meeting at the office. "[Mr. Scheer] did one or two interviews at the Rebel during that period, if I remember correctly. So he would have come to the office in order to go on camera or whatever he was doing," Mr. Marshall said.
Rebel founder Ezra Levant told The Globe that Mr. Marshall worked as the website's "IT boss," and that Torch provided IT services to the site from February, 2015, until this spring.
"That is a technical role, with no editorial input whatsoever," Mr. Levant wrote in an e-mail. "After the Conservative leadership race, we amicably decided to part ways."
According to Elections Canada rules, offices rented during a leadership campaign count as a campaign expense. If an office is rented before a campaign begins, the rent is not considered a campaign expense and cannot be paid with regulated funds.
Mr. Marshall said the Scheer campaign did not rent the office for the campaign, but rather paid his company for its services, which included the use of his time and office space.