Prime Minister Stephen Harper has brought back another member of his close guard to run the Conservative Party of Canada.
Former spokesman Dimitri Soudas has been hired as the CPC executive director, to be on the job on Monday morning.
Mr. Soudas’ nomination was approved Friday night by the party’s national council, after it was made clear that he was Mr. Harper’s pick for the job, sources said.
Mr. Soudas refused to comment on his nomination. He is expected to oversee all administrative matters, operations and the on-the-ground organization of all ridings by the 2015 general election.
The goal is to make sure that the Conservative Party runs “once again like a well-oiled machine,” a source said.
Mr. Harper is increasingly relying on trusted hands and close loyalists to bring back a sense of cohesion to his government, which has taken a major hit over the Senate expense scandal and other controversies.
The move to install Mr. Soudas at the CPC is another signal that campaign preparations for the 2015 election are becoming a priority for Mr. Harper.
Jenni Byrne, formerly director of political operations for the Conservative Party, recently moved to the Prime Minister’s Office to become a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Harper. Ms. Byrne previously served as director of issues management in the PMO and managed the Conservatives’ 2011 election campaign, and is known for her partisan style and tight message control.
Mr. Soudas quit his job as executive director of communications at the Canadian Olympic Committee last week and told The Globe he was starting his own public relations firm, vowing to stay away from lobbying or government contracts. 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.
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 (Tony) 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.