The circle closes in around PMO chief of staff Ray Novak

The circle closes in around PMO chief of staff Ray Novak

The reported memory of one former PMO advisor suggests another chief of staff to the Prime Minister, Ray Novak, knew about a payment to Mike Duffy

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Chief of Staff Ray Novak stands along the wall as he watches the prime minister speak to members of Caucus on Parliament Hill Tuesday May 21, 2013 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Chief of Staff Ray Novak stands along the wall as he watches the Prime Minister speak to members of caucus on Parliament Hill on May 21, 2013 (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)

Among the emails that emerged last week through the trial of Mike Duffy was a two-sentence missive from Nigel Wright to Benjamin Perrin, then a special adviser to the Prime Minister, and Ray Novak, principal secretary to the Prime Minister at the time and now Stephen Harper’s chief of staff.

“I think her approach works,” Wright wrote on the morning of March 23, 2013, referring to Duffy’s lawyer, Janice Payne. “I will send my cheque on Monday.”

This seemed to suggest that Ray Novak, Harper’s highest-ranking and longest-serving aide, would have been aware of Wright’s payment to Sen. Duffy. But Conservative spokesman Kory Teneycke told reporters that Novak had not seen the email in question. “This wasn’t a file that Ray was ever managing, or particularly a part of, and he was unaware,” Teneycke said.

Teneycke also said it was “unfathomable” that Novak would have known about Wright’s decision and not informed the Prime Minister.

But now there is a new allegation of Novak’s knowledge. In court this afternoon, Duffy’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, read excerpts of an interview between Perrin and RCMP Sgt. Greg Horton. In the interview, Perrin apparently recalled meeting with Wright and Novak, and a conference call with Payne that followed*.

“Ray Novak was also there on the call when Nigel Wright said to Janice Payne he would do it,” Perrin said, according to Bayne’s account.

But Horton then apparently said, “Ray, in his interview last week, said that he wasn’t aware at this time that Nigel was going to repay the money.”

“Nigel says, ‘I think her approach works’—this is referring to her sending a letter, and he says I will send my cheque on Monday,” Perrin said, seemingly of the March 23 email.

“And that’s to who sorry?” Horton asked.

“To Ray Novak and myself,” Perrin said, “and Ray was in that meeting and Ray heard this and I remember looking at Ray to see his reaction.”

Teneycke told reporters last week that Novak heard the first part of the conference call, but did not hear discussion of Wright’s cheque. Wright told the court today that Novak might have dropped into the office at some point, but was otherwise not on the call.

A previous accounting of who knew about Wright’s payment was contained in an RCMP filing that was made public in July 2013. In that filing, it was relayed that Wright’s lawyer had informed the RCMP that three other members of the PMO were aware: Perrin, Chris Woodcock (director of issues management in the PMO) and David van Hemmen (Wright’s executive assistant).

Wright’s accounting was noted by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons a few months later.

“Mr. Wright has been absolutely clear in terms of who he told he intended to repay Mr. Duffy’s expenses to,” Harper said on Oct. 23, 2013. “He did not say Ray Novak was one of those people. He has named those people. He has been very clear. He has also been very clear that one of those people was not me, because I obviously would never have approved such a scheme.”

In Perrin’s February 2014 interview, he apparently admitted to being surprised when Novak was not referenced in that RCMP filing. “I’ve actually been shocked when I saw the [information to obtain filing] coming out saying who knew, because Ray Novak was not listed in that, okay?” he said to Horton.

Last Friday, Harper explained his view of the situation in his office. “These are the actions of Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright,” he said. “You hold people responsible for their own actions; you certainly don’t hold subordinates responsible for the actions of their superiors . . . These are the two people who are responsible and they are being held accountable.”

Asked this morning about what transpired in the PMO, the Prime Minister repeated that Duffy and Wright are the individuals responsible. “I’m certainly not going to comment on ongoing matters before the court that are being disputed,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is this: It was Mr. Duffy’s responsibility to repay his expenses. Mr. Duffy did not do so. Mr. Wright permitted him not to do so. These are the individuals I consider responsible and they are being held fully accountable for their actions.”

Wright also told the court on Tuesday that he had exchanged instant messages with Novak as recently as about two weeks ago.

Novak has been by Harper’s side since 2001, serving first as his executive assistant and, semi-famously, living above the garage at Stornoway when Harper was leader of the Opposition. He was named principal secretary—perhaps the second-highest post in the PMO—in 2008 and he became Harper’s chief of staff after Wright resigned over the revelation of a payment to Duffy.

Novak’s unparalleled history with Harper might be matched by the high regard in which he has been held.

“Ray is the common sense around the table,” one government official told Maclean’s in 2010.

“It will sound to you like I am gushing, but I think you would have to look very, very, very hard to find anyone who will say a negative thing about him,” added a ministerial aide.

“It’s a macho business,” said one former member of the PMO. “It’s a field where you’re allowed to be bombastic on the public stage, and that tends to result in people being bombastic privately within offices. It’s very useful to have somebody who is a calming influence, a stabilizing influence and a focused influence, who simply is there to get the job done and to carry things through to completion.”

 *This sentence has been clarified.

With files from Nicholas Köhler


The circle closes in around PMO chief of staff Ray Novak

  1. Novak…..single, 38 and famous for living over Harp’s garage.

  2. The RCMP received conflicting testimony from multiple people about who knew what based on that meeting. It happens all the time.

    Because one person said something in a statement to the RCMP does not make it true. Memories can be faulty.

    It is why one should never talk to the police without your own lawyer present. You can tell the truth, but if someone else misremembers events and tells the police something else, you can be screwed even if you told the truth.

    I am disappointed that the media has not been more balanced in their reporting, and explaining why Bayne is pursuing this course of defence. The media is not being critical at all of the Bayne narrative, and taking it at face value. It does have weaknesses. And when Duffy is likely found guilty of some of the charges, the media will have to suddenly start explaining why.

    I sort of think the bribery charge is 50-50. But if Duffy is not found guilty of accepting a bribe, then what is the fuss about. What is the big deal about non-government money being used to pay back the government (when the Liberals still owe $40 million from the sponsorship scandal, and the media never challenged Elections Canada as to why the Liberals should not be forced to return the money for face prosecution). (I know…Elections Canada believes that it is okay for Liberals to break election laws).

    Gerald Butts (like Ray Novak) was in the room during the genesis of the e-Health and ORNGE scandals. Each billion dollars scandals, involving public money. Why isn’t the media challenging Justin Trudeau on that? Why does Justin Trudeau trust Gerald Butts?

    What about Justin Trudeau taking speaking fees from charities while he was a sitting MP?

    What about Tom Mulcair not reporting that he was offered a brown paper bag to the police (him being a lawyer and all too) for twenty years?

    • Topic is Harper and Duffy and nowt to do with Onttario


    • The prosecution will have a chance to rebut Bayne – you managed to leave that out. And your side is not helped by dragging in bits and pieces about the opposition – it just makes you look desperate.

    • You’re probably right – Perrin’s memory of looking at Novak’s face to gauge his reaction is probably imagined, Novak never reads his email, and he left the conference call before the relevant information was disclosed.
      Also, unicorns have become so plentiful that there’s to be a cull.

      Anyhow, even if the PM has appointed a bunch of liars and criminals who spend their time concocting lies to tell the Canadian public, uh, something, something…Liberals.

      • “At worst, he personally ordered it done and chose the people who executed the plan. At the very least, he fostered an attitude within the party…, chose the managers of the people who committed these crimes and completely and utterly failed to exercise any oversight, supervision or leadership.

        “In the end, it doesn’t really matter where [his] actions or lack of them fall on that scale. He is the leader and a leader is responsible for the actions of the people he leads.

        “If he had a right or honourable bone in his body, he’d admit that and resign immediately.”

        That’s Stephen Harper on Jean Chrétien and the AdScam scandal.

    • My fellow Canadians.

      We have all just witnessed a sad spectacle — a prime minister so burdened with corruption in his own party that he is unable to do his job and lead the country, a party leader playing for time, begging for another chance.

      This is not how a prime minister should act.

      Harper’s reaction to the PM’s speech
      CBC News Online | April 21, 2005

  3. “I’m certainly not going to comment on ongoing matters before the court that are being disputed,” which is immediately followed by a comment on ongoing matters before the court.

  4. Why is the government spending so much money on this case. What is the most that Mr. Duffy will get as far as jail time. It is common knowledge that there is a lot of funny things that happen in politics. Instead of going on this witch hunt, why not spend the money on the disabled in this country.