In his new home, Dr. Porter didn’t confine his networking to one political party.
He created an MUHC think tank on health policy, and named former New Brunswick premier Bernard Lord as its “scholar in residence.” He identified a key ally in then Liberal health minister Philippe Couillard, hosting him at his many parties and dabbling in business with Mr. Couillard when he retired. (Mr. Couillard was a witness to Dr. Porter’s unique ability to navigate different worlds, when the pair travelled to Baltimore in the summer of 2005 to the annual Shriners convention. The mission was to persuade the organization of fez-wearing philanthropists to keep their pediatric hospital in Montreal, which they did, thanks in part to Dr. Porter’s decision to become a Shriner in a secret ceremony held in Montreal.)
Observers of Dr. Porter say another significant political associate was then-senator David Angus, who became chair of the MUHC’s board in 2007. A Montreal lawyer and long-time Conservative fundraiser dating back to Brian Mulroney’s reign, Mr. Angus became a vocal supporter of Dr. Porter, and the two were frequently together, including posing for photographs at events with Mr. Harper, both at the hospital and a 24 Sussex Dr. garden party.
In an e-mailed statement, Mr. Angus said that all of his interactions with Dr. Porter were entirely “business related” and that he never socialized with him outside of their official duties. “My relationship with Dr. Porter may be characterized as that which you would expect to exist between a diligent and engaged board chairman and a competent CEO. It was at all times professional and of the highest quality and standard,” he said.
Mr. Angus declined to answer questions about what role he played, if any, in the appointments that soon flowed Dr. Porter’s way – appointments that came from corporate and Conservative circles with which Mr. Angus has long had affiliations.
In 2006, Dr. Porter was named a director at Air Canada, which was where Mr. Angus served as a director for nearly two decades. One former director described Dr. Porter as keenly interested in forging relationships with other directors. “He was always talking about … Harper and other Tories. He said they always took his calls,” the source said.
Given Dr. Porter’s penchant for self-promotion, it’s not clear if that is true. What is true is that in 2008, Mr. Harper announced that he was appointing the doctor to the Security Intelligence Review Committee – the five-person body that is supposed to keep tabs on the operations of Canada’s spy agency, CSIS. In order to legally serve in this position, Dr. Porter was sworn in as lifetime member of the Queen’s Privy Council and, according to the committee’s own literature, given clearance to examine “all information held by CSIS, no matter how highly classified that information may be.”
It seemed that Dr. Porter hadn’t learned anything about his experience in Detroit and the risks that come from spreading himself too thin. If anything, his appetite for ventures only became more voracious.
The most infamous of these was his commercial relationship with a former arms dealer, and a self-described former spy, Ari Ben-Menashe, which was first revealed in the National Post last year. In 2010, Dr. Porter signed a consultancy agreement with Mr. Ben-Menashe, a deal that would require Mr. Ben-Menashe to secure a $120-million grant from Russia for “infrastructure development” in Dr. Porter’s native Sierra Leone. In return, a company controlled by Dr. Porter’s family, the Africa Infrastructure Group, would manage whatever facilities or projects were constructed with the funds. The deal fell apart, neither party could agree why and Mr. Ben Menashe spoke openly about the failed plans with a reporter – which led to Dr. Porter’s resignations from both the MUHC and the Security Intelligence Review Committee.