Politics, much like love, is a thorny game. And when a budding romance blooms in the Conservative caucus, it’s often Prime Minister Stephen Harper who gets stung.
So it goes with the case of beleaguered MP Eve Adams and her fiancé Dimitri Soudas, the former top campaign officer who was fired as executive director of the party following allegations he tried to throw his weight behind Adams’s nomination battle for the southern Ontario riding of Oakville North-Burlington.
“It’s bad. It’s bad for the party, it’s bad for the [Conservative] brand. I think Stephen would like to see this go away fast,” said Gerry Nicholls, a Toronto-based communications consultant and political commentator.
“It’s not what the Conservatives want to talk about. They want to talk about how Harper's a great leader, how they're dealing with the economy, not domestic squabbles in their own backyard.”
Nicholls, who worked alongside Harper at the National Citizens Coalition from 1997 to 2001, said from a crisis-management perspective, the Adams-Soudas affair will not come out as a “make or break” matter for the Tories, but it will play as a tawdry distraction that could lead the voters to question the government’s competence.
'Scars on the riding'
“[Harper] is going to act decisively to try and stop this. It’s going to be an annoyance, it’s a nuisance.”
“And it’s probably going to leave some scars on the riding,” he said of Adams’s fight to win her nomination contest — a battle that has become overshadowed by new allegations of tantrums and entitled behaviour on the part of Adams.
"It’s gone from a nomination fight to a reality show," he said. "One part Survivor, one part Amazing Race, one part Meet the Kardashians."
'Dimitri Soudas is a very loyal and trusted [backroomer] for Harper, and the fact that he’s been forced to leave is a really big problem, it’s very close to home for the prime minister' — Marcel Wieder, president of Aurora Strategy Group
Consultants and political strategists have noted this isn’t the first time that an intra-Conservative relationship has turned proceedings in Ottawa into a parliamentary soap opera.
The incident was reminiscent of former Tory MP Helena Guergis, who was ejected amid an RCMP probe in 2010 that examined allegedly shady business and lobbying practices of her husband, former MP Rahim Jaffer.
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Harper was accused of not disclosing more about the allegations, and he was dogged by criticisms that the scandal was an example of poor judgment within the party. He responded by dropping Guergis.
In a column last week, the National Post described Harper’s ouster of Soudas as "the Guergis treatment."
Both the Soudas and Guergis ejections appear to be attempts to “nip the problem in the bud,” Nicholls said.
Otherwise, he said, romances can “blow up” in a bad way.
'Star-crossed' MacKay and Stronach
Then defence minister Peter MacKay’s high-profile romance with millionaire heiress and then Conservative MP Belinda Stronach ended in personal and political heartache when Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals in 2005.
It was a story too hard for the media to resist, Nicholls said. Loyalties were questioned, and emotions spilled over into question period.
"The MacKay and Stronach romance, that was like Romeo and Juliet — star-crossed lovers," he said.
"Usually, when you’re a Republican or a Conservative, you want to align with your own tribe [in a relationship]. I think it’s difficult for that cross-pollination to occur."
For his part, Soudas gave the impression that he was choosing to stand by his partner over a political power grab, telling reporters that “at the end of the day, I chose the woman I love over a job I didn’t want in the first place."
His departure will be viewed as a necessary but regrettable casualty amid all the trouble leading up to Adams’s nomination, said Marcel Wieder, an award-winning political campaign adviser and founder of the Aurora Strategy Group.
“Dimitri Soudas is a very loyal and trusted [backroomer] for Harper, and the fact that he’s been forced to leave … hits very close to home for the prime minister,” Wieder said.
What amounts to a talent loss for the party could boost Adams’s campaign, however.
"Having Soudas now out of a job in Ottawa frees him up to spend full time on Eve Adams’s campaign, and he’s one of the best in the business," Wieder said.
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However, it may not be so helpful to Adams's campaign to be embroiled in a controversy about whether she was unfairly helped by her fiancé.
In his close to 40 years working on political campaigns, Wieder said, he isn’t surprised politicians have some of the highest divorce rates out of any profession.
It’s a "tough profession" that demands long hours, frequent travel, and attention to an electorate that could stir up feelings of neglect on the part of a lover.
A 'dangerous mix'
Of course, political upheaval over intra-party romances isn’t the sole province of the Conservatives.
An extramarital affair between former B.C. Liberal House leader Judi Tyabji and former BC Liberal leader Gordon Wilson in the 1990s rocked the party. Wilson underwent a leadership review and was replaced by Gordon Campbell soon afterward.
The couple later wed and are still married in B.C.
When it works, it works, Wieder said.
Take NDP leader Jack Layton and former MP Olivia Chow, another political power couple whose romance arguably helped with the pair’s legacy building.
"And really, one of the best examples of politics and love? Bill and Hillary Clinton," Wieder said. "That is the classic, two very driven, politically oriented individuals who are supportive of each other and have that relationship. It has been tested, but at the end of the day, it's still strong.”
Where political lovebirds fly into trouble is when they begin to confuse serving the public with "self-serving," says Ryerson University philosophy professor Elizabeth Trott, who teaches courses on human nature and love.
"Sometimes I wonder about the motivations of [politicians], where you go to any lengths to keep this job because you like the way it appears, and that can build into a sense of entitlement," she said.
"Office romances could be just one of those little perks that comes along with surviving in a tough world, but in the public world of politics, where you should be duty-driven, politics and romance is a much more dangerous mix."