Canadian prime minister's top aide quits over expenses scandal
* Expenses crisis threatening to undermine government
* Conservatives trailing in opinion polls
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, May 19 (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 large check broke ethics rules forbidding 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. Continued...