TORONTO — Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government was already tangled in a controversy over a memo on Barack Obama's NAFTA position, denied Friday that Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign had delivered back-channel assurances to Canadian officials that her criticisms of NAFTA should be taken "with a grain of salt."
The Canadian Press news agency reported Wednesday that Harper's chief of staff, Ian Brodie, last week said someone in Clinton's campaign had called to tell Canada "not to worry" about her campaign comments about reopening the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Asked about it Thursday, Harper spokeswoman Sandra Buckler said in an e-mail to the Associated Press: "Ian Brodie is alleged to have made an offhand comment about a rumor to a reporter. He does not recall saying it."
Asked about it again Friday, Buckler said Canadian officials did not discuss NAFTA with the New York senator's campaign.
"The answer is no, they did not," Buckler said.
The Canadian Press article quoted an unidentified source as saying that Brodie had been chatting with reporters last week at a press gathering about Canada's budget.
According to a person with knowledge of the incident, the source was a journalist with Canada's CTV television network.
The Canadian Press story said Brodie was asked about remarks by Clinton and Illinois Sen. Obama that they would seek to renegotiate NAFTA.
The source quoted Brodie as saying that "someone from Clinton's campaign is telling the embassy to take it with a grain of salt . . . that someone called us and told us not to worry," according to the Canadian Press report.
On Thursday, Clinton spokesman Phil Singer said, "We flatly deny this report."
Brodie did not respond to a call seeking comment.
On Monday, the Associated Press released a leaked Canadian government memo that said Obama's senior economic advisor had told Canadian officials that Obama's NAFTA comments were "political positioning."
The news helped Clinton defeat Obama decisively in Tuesday's Democratic primary in Ohio, where the trade treaty is unpopular.
Some Democrats, as well as Canadian opposition parties, have accused Harper's Conservative government of meddling in the U.S. presidential election process.
Canadian opposition parties are demanding that Brodie be fired.
Harper told lawmakers that the government would investigate the entire affair.
The source of the leaked memo had not been determined.