The Prime Minister’s former spokesman is quitting his job at the Canadian Olympic Committee and launching his own public relations firm, vowing to stay away from lobbying or government contracts.
Dimitri Soudas will leave as the executive director of communications at the COC ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but he may still attend the games as part of his work with his new firm. During his two-year tenure, he used his trademark aggressive communications style to bring greater visibility to Canada’s athletes and his boss, COC president Marcel Aubut.
Mr. Soudas said he has been planning to leave the COC since the summer, and his new firm will be called Dimitri Soudas Communications. He will focus on strategic advice and crisis management for private-sector clients in Toronto and Montreal. He will not seek government contracts, and is still covered by the five-year ban on lobbying Ottawa for former federal employees.
He was director of communications for Stephen Harper until after the Conservative government won a third straight mandate and its first majority in 2011. At the time, he was engulfed in a controversy over a campaign to influence the selection of a new president for the Montreal Port Authority four years earlier.
Mr. Soudas told the port’s board of directors in 2007 that the federal government favoured former municipal administrator Robert Abdallah. However, Mr. Soudas always denied being part of a campaign in favour of Mr. Abdallah that was allegedly orchestrated by members of Montreal’s business community.
The matter was the subject of an RCMP investigation, but Mr. Soudas, after an interview with the Mounties, received assurances that he was a witness, not a suspect.
“As I said all along, I simply did my job, as in any other file, and I’m extremely pleased with this outcome,” he said in an interview.
According to recordings of phone conversations that surfaced during the 2011 election campaign, two Montreal businessmen organized a bid to place Mr. Abdallah at the helm of the port authority. Construction magnate Antonio Accurso and engineering-firm president Bernard Poulin discussed hiring one of Mr. Soudas’s friends and political allies, Leo Housakos, as part of that push. In their conversations, which have been quoted in the House of Commons, Mr. Accurso and Mr. Poulin called Mr. Soudas the “real boss” of the Harper government in Quebec.
The recordings have led opposition MPs to allege Mr. Soudas and others engaged in “arm twisting and influence peddling.”
Mr. Soudas maintains he never discussed the matter with Mr. Housakos, and that his efforts came after the city of Montreal expressed support for Mr. Abdallah, who had been its director-general.
The port’s board of directors selected another candidate.
“The [opposition] MP talks about influence in relation to Mr. Abdallah’s nomination. However, he was not appointed as president,” Conservative cabinet minister Denis Lebel said in the House in 2011. “The file is over.”