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Lawrence Martin (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Lawrence Martin

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

LAWRENCE MARTIN

The Harper machine is in disarray Add to ...

Few expected this. The bet would have been that the Prime Minister would have gone to the wall to protect Dimitri Soudas, as he has many other loyalists after acts of folly.

But just four months after having been appointed, the Conservative Party’s executive director is out the door. He joins a lengthening list. In recent months, Stephen Harper has also lost his chief of staff, his finance minister and a Supreme Court nominee, plus several senators as a result of the expenses scandal.

Globe and Mail Update Apr. 01 2014, 12:29 PM EDT

Video: How serious of a blow is Soudas' exit for Harper?

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What’s often been reputed to be a well-oiled machine has seldom been in such a state of disarray.

The young and extremely partisan Mr. Soudas, who had previously served in the Prime Minister’s Office as one of the so-called boys in short pants, was hired to be the party’s principal election organizer. But he meddled too much in trying to secure the nomination of his fiancée, MP Eve Adams, in a Toronto-area riding.

By the standards of malfeasance of this governing party, the tactics did not appear unusually offensive. In Liberal land, for example, we notice that Justin Trudeau has been accused of interference in his party’s nomination process.

It may be that Mr. Harper’s willingness to jettison Mr. Soudas is a sign of a greater willingness to listen to the rank and file. What seems clear is that the party is not prepared to kowtow to Mr. Harper the way it once did. He doesn’t exert the dominance he once did. His party has been trailing the Liberals in the polls. He presided over a scandal he claimed to know little about, but should have known a lot about. Rebellious caucus types have confronted him, demanding some freedom of speech. Former finance minister Jim Flaherty contradicted him on income-splitting, a major policy plank.

This kind of disorder and unrest is often seen with prime ministers of long duration. The governments of Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien encountered strong headwinds around the 10-year mark. The same story applies to many provincial premiers. In some cases, the leaders take the hint and leave. In others, they plunge forward, putting their legacies at risk.

In their determination to set things right, the leaders have a tendency to circle the wagons. Mr. Soudas was one of three young ultra-loyalists promoted by the PM. Another was Ray Novak, who once served as Mr. Harper’s suitcase carrier and was appointed chief of staff, replacing Nigel Wright. The third was the abrasive Jenni Byrne, who became deputy chief of staff despite opposition to her MO.

To a party (not to mention a public) that has been demanding more openness and respect for the democratic process, these were dubious choices, as was the appointment of another young hyper-partisan, Pierre Poilievre, as minister for democratic reform.

Were it not for Mr. Soudas, the talk today would be about the Liberal leader’s nomination meddling and his f-word blast with microphone in hand at a public forum on the weekend. That word is so common nowadays that its use doesn’t get the blowback it once did. But given the depths to which political morality has plunged, given the demand for dignity, the gratuitous display of vulgarity was ill-advised.

Mr. Trudeau announced last week he is a writing a “candid” autobiography, to be released this fall. The suspicion in Ottawa is that he wants to get any old skeletons out of the closet on his own terms before the Conservative attack machine has at them. In the case of the late NDP leader, Jack Layton, there was the leak in the 2011 election claiming he had been found in a massage parlour back in the 1990s.

Fortunately for Mr. Trudeau, his problems are overshadowed by those of a Prime Minister who has been spending too much time on the road instead of minding the store at home. There is much minding to be done. He needs to heed that old cliché about the natives getting restless. They have good reason to be.

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