Is Nigel Wright, the prime minister’s chief of staff, heading back to the corporate world?

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

The opposition parties might not have Nigel Wright to kick around anymore.

According to the Globe and Mail, the man who became Stephen Harper's chief-of-staff in 2010 was supposed to return to his high power executive position on Bay Street after two years at the Prime Minister's Office.

The Globe notes that several insiders believe Wright will extend his stay at the PMO. But if he did leave, could you blame him?

In 2010, Wright took a leave of absence — along with a significant pay cut — from his job at private equity giant Onex Corp. to take on the thankless job of being Harper's right-hand man.

Ever since then, he's been a target of NDP, Liberal and Bloc Québécois MPs.

The National Post's editorial board wrote about the opposition to his hiring in November 2010.

"At issue was the potential for conflict of interest arising from Mr. Wright's work as a senior executive with Onex Corporation, which has a wide range of holdings in industries ranging from aerospace to food services. NDP MP Pat Martin disdainfully sniffed that he "cannot even order a pizza" for the Prime Minister without being conflicted, while Bloc MPs constantly interrupted Mr. Wright's remarks.

Canadians should be thankful that someone as intelligent and accomplished Mr. Wright would be willing to take a massive pay cut to serve his government. Instead, his experience has been akin to that of a wealthy private-school transfer student who arrives at a public school, and immediately is set upon by sneering classmates. This is a reflection not on Mr. Wright, but on the small-minded world of Ottawa."

Earlier this week, it was announced that Wright, is now the subject of a formal conflict of interest examination by federal ethics watchdog Mary Dawson. Dawson will, appropriately examine if Wright used his position to help out his friends at Barrick Gold Corp.  The company lobbied Wright on three separate occasions in May.

NDP MP Charlie Angus told CBC News that the affair smells of Wright giving Barrick preferential access.

"They were lobbying about their business interests and this man is very closely involved with the [family of Barrick's chairman Peter Munk]," Angus said.

"So, again, is this a case of who you know in the PMO: does the Munk family have a secret bat-phone into the Prime Minister's Office? We need to know."

While it's appropriate to investigate any potential wrongdoing, vilifying the very competent Wright is a little disingenuous.

By most accounts, Wright has been an impressive chief who has shielded himself from conflict with an "ethical wall" established by a secretary to the cabinet that bars him from participating in discussions or decisions relating to Onex.

"Mr. Wright, with long experience in the private sector, brought a stronger degree of managerial competence to the PMO," writes Steven Chase of the Globe and Mail.

"He's got a good grasp of economics and the business world and runs a smoother PMO machine."

Would NDP MPs such as Martin and Angus have a career politico running the PMO rather than someone who has 'real world' successes?

If Wright does go back to the corporate world, his absence will be a loss for the Harper government and in turn, a loss for Canada.