The memo to the Prime Minister condemns Ottawa Senators management for trading Jason Spezza.
In a March 2013 memo to Stephen Harper, his chief of staff Nigel Wright and other senior staffers raged that the Ottawa Senators were too independent and had recommended trades and staff adjustments that were not pre-approved by the Prime Minister’s Office.
In theory, the Ottawa Senators are supposed to be one of Canada’s flagship NHL teams. But Wright and his crew railed against Senators General Manager Bryan Murray for allowing Jason Spezza to be traded outside of the direction of the prime minister.
The memo was made public Tuesday when it was tabled into evidence in the Mike Duffy trial.
Wright listed several problems with Bryan Murray and President Cyril Leeder’s control of the Senators. “There are reports that call on the organization to lower ticket prices, create a long-term performance improvement plan, and invest heavily in ticket promotions involving needy children,” he wrote.
All of those proposals apparently contradicted the Conservative party line.
Wright’s memo shows that the Prime Minister’s Office has strict control over what happens in the House of Commons, and rips in to Murray for not exercising the same control over Canadian Tire Centre.
“What we have discovered is that the lines of communication and levers that are available to us in the House of Commons, simply are not in place within the Senators organization,” Wright says. “It was quickly apparent that Cyril Leeder’s office had little influence over what the organization did and said, and limited reach into the player’s room generally.”
“Consistently, Cyril Leeder does not embrace the work of your office to bring communication and direction with the Ottawa Senators closer to the model that we have with the House Leader and Chief Government Whip.”
Hardly a new phenomenon, Stephen Harper’s PMO has been at odds with Sentors leadership since they took office. In early 2007, then GM John Muckler received a memo to relinquish control of the team’s draft picks to PMO.
Muckler publicly insisted that he ran his own shop and did not answer to the PMO. But a few months after the memo went unanswered, he was booted from Senators leadership.
The broader purpose of the latest memo was to lay out a plan to rein in the Ottawa Senators. In the memo, Wright provides a suggested response from Harper to Murray. In it, he asks him to “work closely with my office to ensure that Hammond isn’t a one-man show next year.”
When pressed to comment on this at a campaign stop, Harper only had this to say: “Listen, I reject the premise of the question. The reality is, I have played more NHL ’15 than probably any other Prime Minister, and Murray should listen to me on this. I know what I’m doing.”