OTTAWA — The prime minister's former chief of staff Nigel Wright has hired another former chief of staff, Guy Giorno, to represent him in an ethics probe.
Wright, who served as Stephen Harper’s chief of staff until his sudden resignation on May 19, is under investigation by Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson for possibly breaching the Conflict of Interest Act when he arranged for a $90,172 payment to then-Conservative Senator Mike Duffy.
The Prime Minister’s Office has said repeatedly that Wright used his own funds and did not inform Harper until the secret payment had been exposed in the media.
Duffy used the cheque to pay taxpayers back for inappropriate living expenses he billed to the Senate by claiming his P.E.I. cottage as his primary residence even though he is a long-time Ottawa resident.
A CTV news report suggested the payment had been made to Duffy on the expectation he keep quiet about it and a promise that a Senate committee’s report based on a third-party audit of his expenses would "go easy" on him.
Duff Conacher, the founding director of Democracy Watch, told HuffPost last week he believes that Wright should be found in breach of the Conflict of Interest Act.
Either Wright intervened to help a friend or, if he is not a friend, he improperly intervened in a situation to further the senator’s interest, Conacher said.
"... paying off a senator doesn’t avoid a conflict of interest, it creates it. So either way he is caught," Conacher said.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Dawson appeared to play down expectations she will come down harshly on Wright. She told CP she can only rule on whether the law has been breached, not whether someone’s behaviour was questionable.
Dawson, however, is facing intense pressure by the opposition and organizations such as Democracy Watch to find some evidence of wrongdoing by Wright. Her seven-year appointment expires on July 9, 2014. It is expected she will ask the House of Commons for another mandate.
Another concurrent probe is happening in the Senate on whether Duffy should have publicly declared Wright’s $90,000 gift. The RCMP is also investigating the matter.
Giorno, a lawyer with Fasken Martineau, is well respected as an expert in accountability and ethics law. He is considered a specialist in the rules on lobbying.
According to his biography on the law firm’s website: "Clients benefit from Guy's significant experience in public sector ethics, conflict-of-interest codes, accountability legislation (including freedom of information law), lobbyist registration law and election and election finance law."
Giorno served as Harper’s chief of staff from 2008 to 2011 when Wright, a managing director at the private equity giant Onex, succeed him. Giorno was also involved in overseeing the Conservative party’s 2011 election campaign which won them their long sought after majority government.
Giorno and Wright both declined to comment.
In an interview with HuffPost last week, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who recruited Wright to sit on the board of the Manning Centre until his appointment to the PMO, said he believes Wright is an “extremely ethical person.”
"We found him a very ethical person, a straight shooter in terms of black and white and right and wrong, which is why this is so tragic."
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