Canadian prime minister's top aide quits over expenses scandal

Sun May 19, 2013 3:57pm EDT
 
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By David Ljunggren

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.   Continued...

 
Nigel Wright, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, prepares to testify before the Commons ethics committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in this November 2, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Chris Wattie