Inside Dimitri Soudas's last days atop the Conservative Party
How Stephen Harper's hand-picked choice to fight the 2015 campaign found himself on the firing line
Dimitri Soudas's second coming with the Conservative Party of Canada began in the glow of Stephen Harper's approval last December with a show-of-hands vote by the party's national council at 24 Sussex Drive.
It ended a scant few months later, during a conference call that saw that same inner circle rubber-stamp his departure.
CBC News has spoken to multiple sources to piece together the events that led to a final confrontation between Soudas — the powerful confidant of the prime minister — and Senator Irving Gerstein, who runs the Conservative Party's muscular fundraising operation.
- Conservative MPs defend hiring of Dimitri Soudas
- Soudas fired as Conservative Party executive director
- MP Eve Adams accused of misusing taxpayer funds in nomination race
Sources suggest the perfunctory firing of Soudas as the party's executive director came after a dramatic weekend of surreptitious meetings and an investigation by the party leadership to gather evidence Soudas had expressly violated his employment contract by using his powerful position to interfere in a nomination battle being waged by his fiancée, MP Eve Adams.
Soudas had been the subject of growing criticism over his involvement in Adams's attempt to win the party's nomination for a new riding near her current Mississauga-Brampton South riding. Sources say that prompted Gerstein to summon Soudas for a tense conversation on Friday.
Those same sources said phone and computer records also confirmed Soudas or someone his office used the party database of voter information — known as the Constituent Information Management System, or CIMS — and that information would have helped Adams reach out to voters within the new riding.
On Sunday afternoon, Soudas was presented with the results of the investigation. The party's top campaign tactician — the man who had been at Stephen Harper's side for over a decade — was bluntly told he either had to step down willingly or Gerstein would fire him.
Soudas did not deny any of the accusations levelled at him during this meeting, sources say.
By 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Soudas had been officially pushed out of the position and at 9 p.m., the national council was informed of the decision by a conference call.
A party spokesman later said Soudas resigned his position, but did not offer further comment. Soudas has declined to offer public comment on the events that led to his departure.
The only person who could have saved Soudas was Harper, his long-time boss. But the prime minister, during his European trip last week, had already heard the allegations against Soudas.
By the time Harper arrived home on Friday, the gears were in motion to deal with the situation. Harper had made it clear that rules were in place and if Soudas was not going to adhere to them, he wouldn't continue on in the position.
Oversaw riding nomination races
Concerns about Soudas's elbows-up style began almost immediately after he was asked to return to the party by Harper late last year, over the objections of some senior people in the party.
As executive director, Soudas was in charge of Conservative nomination races across the country. But sources told CBC News he agreed to stay out of Adams's nomination process to avoid a potential conflict of interest. It was written into his contract that he was to be in charge of 337 ridings for the 2015 election — in other words, all but the one Adams was running in.
Adams is in a bitter battle with local chiropractor Natalie Lishchyna for the Conservative nomination in Oakville-North Burlington, a newly created riding that technically won't exist until the next election. Lishchyna has the support of many in the local Conservative riding association.
On March 19, Adams showed up unannounced and uninvited at a riding association board meeting demanding to speak. She was asked to leave nine times but refused. Some who were at the meeting say Adams was verbally abusive at times and stayed for 40 minutes, even though she was told to go. Association members began leaving and the meeting ended. Soudas was waiting in the hallway for Adams.
Adams has told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that as an MP, she was well within her rights to attend the meeting, which she said was open.
A day later, Butts was fired by Soudas.
In an email to CBC News Monday, Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said he had nothing to say about the dismissal of Butts. "We don't comment on staffing matters."
The firing of Butts and the repeated reports of calls to members in the riding by Soudas proved too much for senior party officials to ignore.
By the end of last week, the view that Soudas was working on Adams's behalf while promising to stay out of the nomination race forced the most powerful members of the party to take action.
With files from Rosemary Barton