Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ethics Watchdog Examining PM's Chief of Staff for Possible Conflict of Interest

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ethics Watchdog Examining PM's Chief of Staff for Possible Conflict of Interest

Article excerpt

Ethics watchdog looks at Harper aide

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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff, Nigel Wright, is now the subject of a formal conflict of interest examination by the federal ethics watchdog.

Mary Dawson's office confirmed Tuesday that the ethics commissioner has launched an examination of Wright's dealings with Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX), under section 45 of the Conflict of Interest Act.

That section empowers the commissioner to act on her own initiative -- without waiting for an MP or senator to request an investigation -- if she has reason to believe someone has contravened the act.

"The fact that she's decided, on her own, to look into this and launch an investigation speaks to the seriousness of the allegation," said New Democrat ethics critic Charlie Angus, who had been contemplating asking Dawson to investigate the matter.

At issue is whether Wright improperly used his influential position to further the private interests of friends at Barrick. The company lobbied Wright on three separate occasions in May despite his personal connections to the company's founding family.

Dawson was unaware of the potential conflict until her office was asked about the matter last month by The Canadian Press. Dawson "followed up" with Wright and then pondered the matter for several weeks before launching the formal examination.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has said Barrick, which has mining operations in Argentina, called Wright to discuss Harper's performance at the Summit of the Americas in April. The prime minister infuriated the Argentine government by blocking a declaration on its claim to the Falkland Islands.

Baird has insisted Wright did nothing wrong; he merely listened to Barrick's concerns, said nothing, passed the matter over to others responsible for the file and was not involved in any decision relating to the company. …

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