Canada PM voices confidence in chief of staff amid scandal

Thu Aug 20, 2015 5:42pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer and David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper voiced confidence in his chief of staff, Ray Novak, on Thursday despite court testimony that Novak knew about a secret payment to help a senator extricate himself from an expenses scandal.

Conservative Senator Mike Duffy is on trial for fraud and bribery over dubious expenses claims and a C$90,000 ($69,000) personal check he secretly received in 2013 from Harper's then-chief of staff, Nigel Wright. Wright wrote the check so that Duffy could repay the expenses.

The scandal and trial involve people who were once close allies of the prime minister, overshadowing Harper's campaign for the Oct. 19 election. Harper and the Conservatives have been in power since 2006.

The Conservative Party insists neither Harper nor Novak, who replaced Wright as chief of staff, knew about the check for Duffy ahead of time.

But Ben Perrin, former legal counsel to Harper's office, said on Thursday that Novak had been present during a meeting in March 2013 when Wright revealed he would be paying Duffy.

"He had never discussed it with me or consulted with me in any way ... and so because it was so surprising to me I immediately looked to my right to see Mr Novak's reaction and he didn't have any reaction to that," Perrin told the trial.

Perrin made similar remarks to police in 2014 and his statement to them was read out in court on Tuesday.

At a campaign stop on Thursday, reporters asked Harper if he still backed Novak.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign stop at the WaterStone Estate and Farms in King Township, Ontario, August 20, 2015.  Harper announced policies that would provide tax relief for adoptive families if he is re-elected in the federal election on October 19. REUTERS/Mark Blinch