Dimitri Soudas fired as Conservative Party executive director

Dimitri Soudas has been forced out as the Conservative Party of Canada's executive director
after allegedly trying to interfere with his fiancee's Conservative nomination battle...

Dimitri Soudas fired as Conservative Party executive director - Politics - CBC News
John Ivison: Damage to Stephen Harper’s reputation among fallout from Soudas firing

When the news that Dimitri Soudas had been fired as executive director of the Conservative Party broke Sunday evening, I wrote on Twitter that all empires start to decline at the inflection point where loyalty outweighs merit.

But that’s not quite right. On reflection, it would be more accurate to say decline started to set in when loyalty began to outweigh character in the Conservative Party’s hiring policy. The Prime Minister has a bad habit of giving big jobs to people who are willing to bend the rules to get what they want.

Stephen Harper was personally responsible for the re-hiring of Mr. Soudas, after his brief (ill-starred) hiatus with the Canadian Olympic Committee. Others cautioned against bringing back the loyal but flawed former communications director.

But Mr. Harper was under fire in the House of Commons last fall, at the height of the Wright-Duffy affair, and his instinct was to surround himself with flag-wavers.

The farce that has since unfolded was entirely foreseeable. Not for the first time, Mr. Harper seems to have been the only person left dumbfounded and disenchanted.

The Prime Minister is not a people person — we all know that. But this failure goes beyond that — it’s as if he is a stranger to some of mankind’s more tainted instincts.

He’s no innocent abroad and he has an uncanny ability to forsee the outcome of a complicated train of events, long before most others.

But time and again he has been let down by the venality of people he has lifted up — think Mike Duffy, Patrick Brazeau, Arthur Porter and now Mr. Soudas.

The story is pretty clear. Mr. Soudas was hired last December with the task of getting the party election ready. His appointment was greeted with misgivings inside the party but the Prime Minister had made his choice and everyone else was obliged to live with the consequences.

The one stipulation that even the Prime Minister insisted upon was that Mr. Soudas recuse himself from the nomination battle in Oakville North Burlington, where his girlfriend Eve Adams, the MP for Mississauga Brampton South, hopes to run in 2015.

Not only did he fail to do that, but by firing a veteran regional organizer who tried to ensure the nomination contest was fair, he dragged the whole party into disrepute.

Until things unwound in such an ugly fashion, Mr. Soudas was actually winning plaudits for reining in his more combative tendencies.

As director of communications to the Prime Minister, he developed the reputation as an angry pitbull who alienated reporters and caucus members.

Yet MPs report that he was doing a good job liaising between caucus and the party in the nomination process. “He was bending over backwards to help MPs. It was a different Dimitri — he knew he had to be a little more respectful towards caucus,” said one Conservative.

As the leaked documents to the Toronto Star indicated last month, the Conservatives are already in an advanced stage of election preparedness.

MPs not running for re-election have been identified; nomination contests for incumbent MPs have already begun, with many more to follow in the summer when Conservatives are in their ridings; relations with the Prime Minister’s Office have been patched up; technology and fundraising issues are being worked on, to address the slipping number of donors and members.

One senior Conservative insider said that the party has already got strong electoral district associations in place in all 30 of the new ridings created by re-distribution and the nomination process will be largely wrapped up by the end of the year.

The departure of Mr. Soudas is unlikely to disrupt that process, particularly if his successor is put in place quickly. The name that has emerged as the most likely new executive director is Dustin Van Vugt, currently chief of staff to Bal Gosal, the minister of state for sport, who is seen as a trusted pair of hands.

The fallout from the affair is likely to be three-fold.

First, the party looks bush league. This may by the easiest problem to solve. The swift action taken to oust Mr. Soudas sends the message that gaming the process will not be tolerated, while John Walsh, the party president, is making it known that the Conservatives will run fair nominations.

The second casualty is Conservative unity. The party is already involved in an ugly turf war in Calgary Signal Hill, where Rob Anders is being challenged by former provincial finance minister, Ron Liepert.

Mr. Anders is waving around an “endorsement” from Mr. Harper — in reality, a statement offered to all sitting Conservative MPs by the Prime Minister saying they are valued, hard-working colleagues, rather than an individual statement of support — while abusing Mr. Liepert as a “liberal” and “temporary Tory.”

Now, an even more divisive fight is brewing in Oakville North Burlington, where local chiropractor Natalia Lishchyna is planning to run against Ms. Adams. The latter has upset caucus colleagues in the constituencies from which the new riding will be carved by holding photo opportunities in schools and hospitals. “It is the opposite of teamwork,” said one MP.

The third, and perhaps most lasting, consequence is the damage to the Prime Minister’s reputation. He has repeatedly appointed people who cannot be trusted to play by the rules. Mr. Harper has just returned from a triumphant European trip to find the headlines dominated by fratricide within his own party. But he insisted on Mr. Soudas, so he doesn’t have to look far for someone to blame.

As for Dimitri Soudas, it is unlikely we have heard the last of him. He’s only 34 and, even though he has a stake through his heart right now, his enemies would be advised to keep cloves of garlic round their necks, just in case.

John Ivison: Damage to Stephen Harper’s reputation among fallout from Soudas firing

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