OTTAWA – The prime minister’s chief of staff announced his resignation early Sunday, saying he left his post in light of the controversy around his personal handling of Sen. Mike Duffy’s expense payments.
Nigel Wright stepped down after a phone conversation with Stephen Harper, signalling a recognition that he — and not Duffy’s improper expense claims — had become the story.
Ray Novak, who has been by Harper’s side since 2001, will be the prime minister’s new chief of staff. Novak is thought to represent stability and is well known by all the federal ministers.
The Prime Minister’s Office said earlier this week that Wright personally paid off $90,000 in inappropriately claimed housing expenses for Duffy, prompting critics to complain that the bailout violated ethics rules that prohibit senators from accepting gifts.
Throughout the fallout prompted by the bombshell announcement, the PMO stood firmly by Wright, saying his position remained secure.
In a statement issued Sunday morning, Wright reiterated that the prime minister had not been involved in the matter.
“My actions were intended solely to secure the repayment of funds, which I considered to be in the public interest, and I accept sole responsibility,” Wright said in a statement.
“I did not advise the Prime Minister of the means by which Sen. Duffy’s expenses were repaid, either before or after the fact.”
Wright said he regretted the impact the matter had on the government, the Tory caucus and all his colleagues.
“I came to Ottawa to do my part in providing good government for Canada, and that is all that I ever wanted and worked for in this role,” he said.
In a separate statement Harper said he accepted Wright’s resignation with “great regret.”
“I accept that Nigel believed he was acting in the public interest, but I understand the decision he has taken to resign,” the prime minister said.
“I want to thank Nigel for his tremendous contribution to our government over the past two and a half years.”
The ethics commissioner is looking into Wright’s repayment of Duffy’s expenses.
Duffy, a former broadcaster, quit the Conservative caucus late Thursday.
One day later, Sen. Pamela Wallin announced she was leaving the Conservative caucus. Her travel expenses, which total $321,000 since September 2010, have been the subject of an external audit since December.
Meanwhile, two other senators are also facing demands that they repay improper housing expense claims.
Sen. Mac Harb was deemed to owe $51,482 in housing-related expenses, a finding that prompted him to quit the Liberal caucus and sit as an independent.
Sen. Patrick Brazeau — kicked out of the Conservative caucus after he was charged in February with assault and sexual assault — was assessed $48,744.
A spokesman for the prime minister has said neither Harb nor Brazeau was offered the same financial assistance as Duffy.
Our full coverage of the controversy is here.
Here is how politicians, pundits and political observers responded to the news: