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Canadian prime minister's top aide quits over expenses scandal

Reuters – 3 mins 33 secs ago

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The top aide to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper abruptly resigned on Sunday over his role in an mounting expenses scandal which is threatening to undermine the Conservative government.

Nigel Wright, Harper's chief of staff, quit after secretly giving a C$90,000 ($87,000) check in February to Mike Duffy, a member of the upper Senate chamber, to help him cover living expenses he had improperly claimed. News of the gift leaked late on Tuesday.

Opposition legislators said the check broke ethics rules that forbid senators from taking presents and made a mockery of the government's repeated promises to increase accountability in Ottawa.

Duffy, a former national television journalist, resigned from the Conservative caucus on Thursday.

Wright's departure reflects the pressure Harper is under. Officials told reporters on Friday that the chief of staff - who says he did not tell Harper about the check - would be staying.

"In light of the controversy surrounding my handling of matters involving Senator Duffy, the prime minister has accepted my resignation," Wright said in a statement.

"I regret the impact of this matter on the government, our caucus, and all of my colleagues," added Wright, a businessman who had been on secondment to Harper's office from private equity firm Onex Corp. He started work on Jan 1, 2011.

The expenses scandal is one of the biggest crises to hit the Conservatives since they took power in early 2006 promising to clean up government after a series of scandals helped bring down the previous Liberal administration.

The Conservatives are in "full-out political panic," said Charlie Angus, a member of parliament and the ethics critic for the official opposition New Democratic Party. Angus said Wright's resignation would not halt the NDP's call for an official probe into the matter.

In a sign of the potential damage the scandal could do to the government, Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber told Global Television that his voters were angry.

"Any suggestion that taxpayers are treated disrespectfully is met with significant concern, I would say even angst," said Rathgeber, who represents a constituency in the western province of Alberta, a ruling party stronghold.

Pamela Wallin, another Conservative senator whose expenses have been questioned, quit the caucus late on Friday. Wallin is also a former television journalist.

Opinion polls show the Conservatives trailing the Liberals, who have steadily grown more popular since Justin Trudeau - the telegenic son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau - was elected leader last month.

Harper said he had accepted Wright's resignation with great regret. The next election is not due until October 2015 and the Conservatives have a comfortable majority in the House of Commons.

But Harper could be in for a tough two years in parliament if he doesn't move quickly to draw a line under the matter. Canada's federal ethics commissioner, however, is examining whether Wright broke government rules about giving gifts.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who holds a junior position as parliamentary secretary to the environment minister, was the only member of the cabinet to respond immediately to the scandal. She told CTV she was "disappointed in what appears to be some serious problems on behalf of one of our former senators."

Harper - who leaves for a South American trip on Tuesday - has twice previously shut down Canada's parliament to sidestep political problems. Harper spokesman Andrew MacDougall dismissed reports saying the prime minister might do the same next month.

Harper named Duffy to the unelected Senate in December 2008 and he was a popular and effective fund-raiser for the party.

The Conservatives initially said he had shown leadership by taking the check rather than leaving taxpayers on the hook for the C$90,000.

Their support vanished amid reports Duffy had claimed daily living expenses from the Senate while campaigning for the Conservatives ahead of a federal election in May 2011.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1805/22/2013

Canada's Bush/Cheney clones are starting to crumble. (except in Canada, Cheney is in the #1 spot).

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 105/20/2013

It's ridiculous Wright (and Harper) would go so far to protect frigging Mike Duffy! Let him twist in the wind. But I'm grateful for any scandal to sweep the Harperites out of office.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 205/20/2013

I feel the same way, R2.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 305/20/2013

Wright is incredibly hot. That said, "see ya later, Nige."

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 405/20/2013

[quote]Wright is incredibly hot. That said, "see ya later, Nige."

He's hot, but credibly so.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 505/20/2013

He's not that hot. Is he a homo?

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 605/20/2013

Welcome to the newer, aggressive Justin Trudeau run Liberal Party. They are playing hardball this time around.

The Ring Wingers do not have the exclusive on playing hardball. The Canadian Gay community will benefit from the fall of these types, who should never have gotten into power in a Country like Canada in the first place.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 705/20/2013

Here in the UK, our "Austerity first, last, and always" MPs are getting a £20,000 pay rise...because their out of control "expenses" system has been abused beyond the point of criminality, and has had to be "curbed"...

Not stopped, but "curbed"

For the lesser classes - forget to bring evidence to your "Jobseekers Allowance" appointment, and you are "sanctioned" for 6 weeks (absolutely no money)

They really are just crooks in suits, aren't they?

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 805/20/2013

Na na na na, na na na na, hey, hey-ey, goodbye!

The cons in this country seem to be imploding, what with the crack-smokin' mayor of T.O. and these feds.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 905/20/2013

Here is hoping they drop to 3rd party status.

Let Canada vote in a Liberal majority with the NDP leader of the opposition. I would prefer it the other way around, but I am trying to be realistic.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1005/20/2013

[quote]He's not that hot.

He's pretty damn hot for a 50 year old. No doubt he was one of the hottest staffers on the Hill, although that is saying less than nothing.

[quote]Is he a homo?

Either that or very strange--perhaps both.

"Wright's principal loyalty, it seems—he has never married, nor been publicly linked with a partner of either gender—has been to his career."

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1105/20/2013

He be spensing sum crack

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1205/20/2013

[quote]It's ridiculous Wright (and Harper) would go so far to protect frigging Mike Duffy! Let him twist in the wind.

Duffy was rewarded by Harper because he did a hit job on former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion during the 2008 Election. When Duffy was still a journalist, he deliberately played a misleading & damaging interview of Dion over and over again on his show to drive Dion's numbers down. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that Duffy violated the Broadcasting code by doing so.

Harper knew he had the Conservative shill he needed though, and within 2 months of the 2008 Election, Harper appointed Duffy to the Senate. Duffy then helped bring in large amounts of $ as a fundraiser at Conservative events.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1305/20/2013

Duffy worked for CTV. Canada's equal to FoxNews.

CTV and the Globe and Mail have aggressively attacked the Liberals and promoted right wing propaganda in the last 5 years, more so than ever before in this groups history.

Needless to say, when Trudeau sweeps into office in 2015, this right wing media group (all owned by Bell Media) will have a high price to pay.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1405/20/2013

Huge blowup today between Prime Minister Harper and the press - I've never seen anything like it before. There was just footage of it on the news - Harper refused to answer any questions and just sat there at his Conservative Party meeting.

Reporters screamed out to him to answer questions and his people threatened to have them removed. Even the pro-conservative reporters are turning on him.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1505/21/2013

He is extremely fit for someone in his fifties. Does he take steroids? Pings too. Another one of those narcissistic/self-loathing right-wing careerists?

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1605/21/2013

Nigel Wright is apparently 50 years old. I always thought he was younger when I saw him because he looks a decade younger. Often struts around in a very cocky manner too.

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1705/21/2013

Can't wait for the day that the CONS are defeated. Morrons !

by Justin Trudeau, M.P.reply 1805/22/2013
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