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In defence of Nigel Wright

Nigel Wright photo portrait smiling

It has taken a long time, but gradually people who know and respect Nigel Wright are speaking out in support of the man they admire, a man they believe has been treated abominably by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. After initially praising him, Harper has turned with a vengeance on his former Chief of Staff, making him a scapegoat for the political embarrassment the prime minister has suffered, and continues to suffer, over the Senate scandal.

Wright's admirers, of whom there are many in business and in politics, were hesitant to come to his defence. Perhaps it was because they were intimidated by the Prime Minister. Perhaps it was because they all know -- and will say as much privately -- that Wright made a serious error in judgment when he wrote that $90,000 cheque for Senator Mike Duffy. They did not want to add fuel to the fire by speaking out. Or perhaps it was because Wright, an intensely private person and a devout Anglo-Catholic, did not ask them for support, not even after Harper publicly accused him of deception.

He could have returned to Toronto last May after he resigned from the PMO, or was dismissed (depending on which Harper version you choose); a millionaire, he has a home there; his old job at Onex Corporation (where he was managing director) is waiting for him; and his church, St. Thomas's, where he has been an extremely active parishioner, is in the heart of the city, in the Annex district close to the University of Toronto.

Instead, he stayed in Ottawa, still living in the condo he purchased when he joined the PMO three years ago, still rising at 4 a.m. to run 20 kilometres before reporting for work at dawn. These days, "work" is in an Ottawa soup kitchen, helping to feed the homeless. He also apparently spends quite a lot of time talking to his lawyers while he waits for the RCMP to wrap up its investigation of the Senate mess.

What is he going to say? Some of the people to who know him suspect he is preparing to even the score with the PM by revealing everything he knows about the Senate scandal, the so-called "bribe" to buy Senator Duffy's silence, and Harper's involvement the affair.

Others say no. They see Wright as a true believer in the Conservative party and still, despite all, a Harper loyalist. They don’t think he would lie to the police, but they also don’t think he (unlike Mike Duffy) would volunteer anything that might bring down the prime minister.

The silence of his supporters began to crack last week. In Calgary at the Conservative convention, two ministers, Jason Kenney and Peter MacKay, praised Wright’s integrity and ability. Peter White, a Bay Street director and Tory power broker since the days of Brian Mulroney, made his feelings very clear:

"I did not like the way the PM described Nigel's activities the other day in the house. Poor old Nigel, he's being pilloried in the media and having his reputation destroyed. You couldn't find a man with greater integrity than Nigel Wright....[He] hasn't got an enemy in the world that I know of...He's a very wonderful man. It's a shame to see this happening."

In Toronto, people who know him from his work at St. Thomas's church all say he is a straight arrow, honourable and committed to public service. One suggests Wright may have a "misguided martyr complex and believes he has to die for The Boss (Harper)." Others recall that during Wright's days as an exceptional undergraduate at the U of T's Trinity College, classmates could not agree on where he would end up: as chief justice of the Supreme Court or prime minister of Canada.

Carol Kysela, who worked with him at St. Thomas's, admires the man but not his Conservative politics. Yet, she says, "Nigel would make one heck of a lot better Prime Minister than Stephen Harper."

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