Harper under cloud after chief of staff resigns

Mon May 20, 2013 4:50pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper was under intense pressure on Monday to reassure voters that his administration is above reproach amid questions surrounding a secret check paid to Senator Mike Duffy.

"There's been nothing under this prime minister's watch that's tied him so closely to such a massive ethical scandal. We need to see him show leadership," opposition New Democratic Party Member of Parliament Charlie Angus told a news conference.

Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, resigned on Sunday after news broke that he had written a check from his own bank account for C$90,000 ($88,000) to enable Duffy to repay to the government housing allowances which should not have been claimed.

Senators are banned by their ethics rules from receiving gifts related to their position, and Harper has given no indication of disapproval, saying on Sunday that he accepted that "Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest."

Harper led the Conservatives into office in 2006 on a promise of cleaning up the misdeeds of the previous Liberal government, and has since been reelected twice.

Though he has a parliamentary majority, he is facing a restive caucus and polling numbers that bode trouble for his party in the October 2015 general election, if things are not turned around.

On behalf of the New Democrats, Angus wrote to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Monday to ask for an investigation into the C$90,000 check.

In particular, he cited news reports that an arrangement was made under which Duffy would stay silent, and that a Senate committee report into Duffy's expense claims were altered or "white-washed."   Continued...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 8, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie