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Nigel Wright, shown at left, with Onex President Gerald Schwartz, at an appearance before a Senate committee in Ottawa, November, 1999.

TOM HANSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper's three chiefs of staff since he became Prime Minister represent three quite different sociological types. Nigel Wright, the latest, is well connected in a way that promises to help fill some gaps in the approach of the Harper government. To use a bit of social-science jargon, Mr. Wright offers a renewed opportunity for "elite accommodation," coming as he does from Toronto's Bay Street.

No Canadian government should be dominated by the country's financial milieux, but the sometimes inward-turned Conservative government could benefit from better contacts with a different centre of power. With its Reform Party heritage, it has strong populist credentials and a feeling for public opinion outside the three largest Canadian cities; a dose of metropolitan elitism may be a wholesome addition.

Ian Brodie, Mr. Harper's first chief of staff, was and is very much an academic; for example, as a graduate student he did work on game theory and rational-choice theory as mathematical political-science methods, and wrote a book on interest groups and the courts.

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His successor, Guy Giorno, had been a labour lawyer on the management side, a background that can often foster an adversarial style, which appeared to surface in his work for the Mike Harris government of Ontario.

As for Mr. Wright, though he has been a business executive with Onex Corp. since 1997, he is a lifelong politico, at first on campus at the University of Toronto (he later went to both the Harvard law and business schools), then in the policy unit of the Prime Minister's Office under Brian Mulroney. He was policy co-ordinator for Kim Campbell's leadership campaign. Though rooted in the Progressive Conservative Party, he is far from having ever been a Red Tory, and he joined the Canadian Alliance, not hanging on for the final merger of the PCs into the new Conservative Party. He is a director of the Manning Centre. Thus, he belongs to historical large-C Conservatism, without being suspect as too left-wing for the Harper government.

All this does not diminish the fact that Mr. Wright will now be working for a man who has very much a mind and will of his own. But with this new chief of staff, Mr. Harper has a good chance for better lines of communication with elements of Canadian society that may be equally sure of themselves - a potential for a salutary counterbalancing factor.

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