POLITICS

Harper Says Chief Of Staff Ray Novak Has His Confidence

08/20/2015 11:48 EDT | Updated 08/20/2015 11:48 EDT

Stephen Harper is standing by Ray Novak despite allegations his current chief of staff knew Nigel Wright was going to give Mike Duffy $90,000 to repay expenses.

But it took two direct questions from reporters Thursday for the Conservative leader to confirm he still has confidence in Novak.

Though Harper unveiled a boosted tax break for adoptive parents at an event in the Ontario township of King, reporters again grilled him on the Wright-Duffy affair.

"Do you still have complete confidence in your chief of staff, Ray Novak?" asked CTV News' Laurie Graham. "Why or why not?"

"I think I've answered that clearly though my actions," Harper replied.

The Conservative leader said that "contrary to what some may be reading," the only person on trial now is Duffy.

"Because Mr. Duffy took taxpayers' money that I believed right from the outset he should not be taking," Harper said. "And I told him so. And I told him to repay it. He did not repay it. That's why I had to take action against him."

Instead, Harper said, it was ultimately Wright — his former chief of staff — who reimbursed taxpayers contrary to the Tory leader's wishes that Duffy pay back the money himself.

"These are the two people responsible. They've been held accountable."

CBC News' Hannah Thibedeau was evidently unsatisfied with Harper's answer.

"Ray Novak, your current chief of staff, does he still have your confidence?" she asked.

"Look, I've been very clear. When people are working for me, they have my confidence," Harper said. "If they didn't have my confidence, they wouldn't be working for me."

Again, Harper said Duffy and Wright are the only ones responsible for the situation.

"I'm not going to go around holding everybody else accountable for their actions," he said.

When asked a day earlier if he has confidence in Novak, Harper told a reporter in French that he wasn't going to comment on allegations before the courts.

Duffy's lawyer Donald Bayne revealed this week that Benjamin Perrin, Harper's former legal counsel, told police that Novak was aware Wright was going to cut Duffy a cheque to repay his expenses.

On Thursday, Perrin described in court court how a conference call was arranged with Duffy's then-lawyer that included him, Wright, and Novak.

Perrin said that before the call, there was a short meeting in Wright's office in which the former chief of staff told him and Novak that he would cover Duffy's expenses. Perrin testified that he looked over to Novak for his reaction but saw none.

Perrin also testified that Novak was present throughout the conference call in which the details of the Duffy plan were discussed, but did not speak.

The Conservatives have maintained Novak didn't know about the plan and did not read an email from Wright mentioning the cheque. Tory spokesperson Kory Teneycke told reporters last week it would be "unfathomable" that Novak would have known about a payment from Wright to Duffy and withheld that information from the prime minister.

With files from The Canadian Press

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