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Nigel Wright, Stephen Harper's chief of staff, resigns

By Daniel Proussalidis, National Bureau

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff has resigned his post after helping Sen. Mike Duffy to repay $90,000 in improperly claimed expenses.

"In light of the controversy surrounding my handling of matters involving Senator Duffy, the prime minister has accepted my resignation as Chief of Staff," said Nigel Wright in a statement Sunday.

Wright gave Duffy a $90,000 gift to help him repay living allowance and other expenses for which the senator was being audited.

But there are questions about whether that kind of gift is even allowed under Senate rules, and some are still wondering about Duffy's claim that he borrowed money from the bank to repay taxpayers.

Wright insists he was just trying to do the right thing.

"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 says in the 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."

As recently as Friday the Prime Minister's Office was saying that Wright continued to enjoy Harper's confidence.

On Sunday, 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," Harper said in a statement.

Ray Novak, a high-ranking official in the Prime Minister's Office, has taken over as Harper's chief of staff.

The opposition is unlikely to ease the pressure on the government over Wright's controversial financial lifeline to Duffy, with MPs returning to the Commons on Tuesday after a week-long break.

Harper will miss the action while on a trade mission to Colombia and Peru from Tuesday to Friday.

The Senate will also meet this week to discuss the audits of three senators and possibly re-examining Duffy's expenses.

Duffy left the Conservative caucus Thursday night, arguing that the controversy surrounding him had become a "significant distraction" to his party.

Sen. Pamela Wallin followed Duffy out of the Tory caucus on Friday, under pressure over more than $320,000 in travel expenses claimed over two years.

Two other senators - Patrick Brazeau and Mac Harb - have also been ordered by Senate brass to return $48,000 and $51,000 respectively in housing expenses, but both have refused, saying they broke no rules.

Poll

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