It was a Friday night in early December when Prime Minister Stephen Harper convened a meeting of the Conservative Party’s national council at 24 Sussex Dr., his official residence in Ottawa. About a dozen people, mostly council members and some senior party brass, attended the meeting, which was brief and free of Christmas cheer.
Mr. Harper told the group his former director of communications Dimitri Soudas, a loyal strategist, would be returning to the fold as the party’s executive director. He said, according to one Tory insider, that Mr. Soudas was a good choice.
Immediately, though, some councillors raised concern about a potential conflict: Mr. Soudas’ powerful new job was to manage and prepare the nomination races across the country, and his fiancée, Ontario MP Eve Adams, was seeking nomination in a new riding. This, they said, was a conflict.
The Prime Minister assured the attendees that Mr. Soudas would stay out of her nomination, and that Mr. Soudas was agreeable to signing a letter, prepared by party lawyer Arthur Hamilton, stating that fact.
So began the drama that has not only rattled the upper echelons of the governing Conservative Party’s election machine, but also forced the political couple to confront allegations of wrongdoing – and the prospect of being reduced to pariah status within the very party they have called home for many years.
Prime Minister Harper last week asked the party to investigate allegations against Ms. Adams of improper conduct and unfair advantage in a heated Toronto-area nomination contest ahead of the 2015 election. Mr. Soudas, who was once the public face of the Prime Minister’s Office, had just days before resigned from his senior post after extensive evidence arose showing he had violated the contractual pledge spoken of that December day at 24 Sussex.
The departure and the investigation have dominated Ottawa chatter in recent days, eliciting mixed views within a party and government that has faced the Senate scandal, the Duffy-Wright revelations, Jim Flaherty’s resignation after eight years as finance minister and the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision not to allow Mr. Harper’s pick to sit on the the top bench.
The Globe and Mail compiled comments from about a dozen MPs about the nomination race and found a wide range of opinions, from those who believe Ms. Adams should face severe consequences if wrongdoing is determined, to those who think the party’s handling of the situation speaks to its commitment to fairness.
Some spoke positively about Ms. Adams, among them Conservative MPs Brad Butt, Patrick Brown and Bev Shipley, while others focused on whether she broke the rules. “I don’t care who it is – if it was the Prime Minister even – if anybody broke the rules, they gotta suffer the consequences. That’s all I’m going to say,” Conservative MP Larry Miller said.
The Prime Minister refused to address the issue this week when asked directly, calling it a party matter and pointing to the ongoing investigation.
Ms. Adams had initially refrained from publicly addressing the allegations, but spoke with The Globe briefly on Thursday, saying she looks forward to winning the newly carved-out Oakville North-Burlington riding, the scene of the nomination battle that led to this week’s headlines. She had planned on giving a wide-ranging interview with The Globe on Friday, but the sit-down was cancelled because she was suffering the effects of a serious concussion that caused her to take leave of House of Commons duties in recent weeks.
Extensive conversations with those who know Mr. Soudas and Ms. Adams paint a picture of two ambitious people, neither one a stranger to controversy even before they became romantically involved.
Their lives have parallels: Both were born to immigrant parents, lost their fathers quite young, cut their hyper-partisan teeth early, worked in municipal politics, had children, parted ways with their spouses. Now, they are both – this time together – facing a critical moment that could define their political prospects as an Ottawa couple. They have vowed to fight on.
Ms. Adams, the 39-year-old daughter of Hungarian immigrants, Eva and the late Attila, has a resume that includes gas station attendant, Pizza Hut kitchen worker, Helicon Society spokeswoman, class of 1992-1993 parliamentary page and Ontario government staffer in the transportation ministry during the Mike Harris years. Her younger brother, Bill Horvath, said Ms. Adams paid her way through school at the University of Ottawa and the University of Western Ontario, and helped him and his brother with homework.