After graduating, Nigel Wright flirted with academia, but instead went on to be called to the bar – he had been wanting to be a lawyer. He joined Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg and was made a partner with the firm after only five years, the minimum number of years then allowed.
Working on an acquisition deal for Onex Corporation had brought Wright to the attention of its chief executive officer Gerry Schwartz who had been impressed with Wright and took him under his wing. Wright climbed the ladder at Onex, the largest private sector employer in Canada, and eventually became a managing director with the firm.
While at Onex Corp., Wright served on several boards of executives. He served as a Director of Indigo Books & Music Inc. from 2001 April 1, 2006. He served as Vice President of Spirit Holdings from December 2004 to November 2006 and served as its Secretary and Treasurer from December 2004 to June 2006. He was named a Director of Spirit Holdings in February 2005. Mr. Wright served as a Director of Res-Care Inc. from June 2004 to November 7, 2006. He served as an Executive Officer of Magnatrax Corporation. Mr. Wright served as a Director of Hawker Beechcraft, Inc., the direct parent company of Hawker Beechcraft Acquisition Company LLC from March 2007 to October 22, 2010. Wright served as a Vice President of Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Inc. and was named a Director in February 2005.
Wright rejoined Onex in July 2014 as a managing director in the buyout firm's offices in London, England.
Involved in Conservative politics from his days in college, he gravitated between the Tory and Reform parties for years, trying to draft Stephen Harper to unite the then-divided right-wing forces. He was eventually successful, and became a founding director of the Conservative Fund Canada, the party's financial arm, as well as a director of Preston Manning's think tank in Calgary. Finally, in 2010, Wright was drafted by Stephen Harper to replace Guy Giorno as his chief of staff. In accepting the position, Wright left behind a seven figure salary for a job described by Derek Burney as "exhilarating but more strenuous than anything else I did in the public or private sector". The appointment attracted pointed criticism and questions about his ties to Bay Street; many in the opposition feared that he was too close to the private sector. During his appointment hearing, NDP MP Pat Martin told him that "Every move you make, every breath you take puts you in a conflict of interest." Before starting the job, he had to negotiate with the Ethics Commissioner an "ethical wall" designed to insulate him from his holdings and other interests.
Chief of Staff
As the Prime Minister's right-hand man, the "elusive" Wright became one of the most powerful players in Ottawa. He has led many of the Prime Minister's big priorities, from the high-profile talks about the trans-Pacific free trade zone, to drafting the policy that limits foreign investment by state-owned enterprises in the oil sands. He was instrumental in the negotiating of skills training arrangement with the provinces, and took over the International Trade file from minister Ed Fast.
Wright disclosed in writing to investigators that during his time in PMO he did not file a single expense claim, paying all his flights, hotels, meals and other costs from his own pocket. Investigators were told that it cost him tens of thousands of dollars, but, thanks to his corporate career, he could afford it, and that Wright held the belief that taxpayers should not bear the cost of his position if he was able legitimately to fund it himself.
In the Hill Times annual ranking of the top 100 Most Influential People in Government and Politics, Wright placed sixth in 2012 and in Maclean’s 25 Most important People in Ottawa he placed fifth in 2012.
Senate Expense Scandal and Resignation
Main article: Canadian Senate expenses scandal
In May 2013, Wright resigned from the position in spite of the advice of the Prime Minister. In late February, 2013, it is alleged that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former special counsel and legal adviser Benjamin Perrin drafted a letter of understanding between Wright and Duffy. Perrin denied involvement in a May 2013 statement. Wright then wrote a personal cheque of $90,172 to Senator Mike Duffy, covering the cost of improperly claimed residency expenses. A Conservative Party spokesman confirmed the money was a gift from Wright, with no expectation of repayment; Duffy used the money to repay the Government of Canada for the expenses improperly claimed. Duffy then refused to meet with independent auditors or supply financial records in relation to the subsequent investigation in the claimed expense controversy. Shortly before his resignation, the Ethics Commissioner confirmed it was investigating Wright for his involvement with Duffy and for the illegal repayment of these expenses. An RCMP affidavit filed in order to justify an Information to Obtain direction has suggested that Wright was guilty of the charge of Frauds on the Government. On October 28, 2013, PM Harper stated in an interview that Wright did not resign, but was in fact dismissed. Wright decided to stay in Ottawa until the RCMP wraps up its investigation of the senate.
On April 15, 2014, the RCMP dropped its nearly year-long investigation into Wright, saying "the evidence gathered does not support criminal charges against Mr. Wright." The RCMP would later lay 31 charges on Duffy on July 17, 2014.
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