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.
She wins races, whether it’s claiming the crown as a Hungarian pageant queen in Ontario, a seat at Mississauga City Council by age 29, or her federal Mississauga-Brampton South riding in 2011. Then, the Sudbury-born politician was deemed a rising Conservative star, having beat out Liberal MP Navdeep Bains to help deliver Mr. Harper his coveted majority government. She was immediately made a parliamentary secretary, but has been passed over since. The 2013 cabinet shuffle, which was aimed at boosting the role of women and younger MPs in cabinet, saw four of eight female parliamentary secretaries promoted. Ms. Adams was not among them.
As an only child raised by a single mother named Georgia and his grandmother, Mr. Soudas was “restless, intense, gregarious … a lightning rod,” according to his longtime friend, Senator Leo Housakos, a fellow Greek Montrealer who is godfather to Mr. Soudas’ four-year-old son. The two met some 25 years ago, back when a young Dimitri played ball hockey in the lane behind the home of Mr. Housakos’ then-love interest and now-wife. Mr. Soudas, 34, has since gone on to earn a black belt second dan in judo.
Mr. Housakos and Mr. Soudas worked together politically, first at the Hellenic Congress of Quebec and later in Montreal municipal politics. Mr. Housakos later suggested Mr. Soudas for a job with Mr. Harper, who was at the time in opposition and hungry for a bilingual communications staffer. Mr. Soudas and Mr. Housakos, who was named to the Senate by Mr. Harper in 2008, were embroiled in 2011 in a controversy over the appointment of a new president at the Montreal Port Authority. The Prime Minister fended off calls for Mr. Soudas’ resignation.
Mr. Housakos saw Mr. Soudas fall in love, marry, divorce and fall in love again. He describes his friend as intensely loyal, competent and cerebral. “In [the Oakville North-Burlington incident], his loyalty probably overtook and overcame his capacity to do what needed to be done,” Mr. Housakos said. “He allowed his loyalty to overwhelm the cerebral part of himself.”
Mr. Soudas told The Globe on Thursday, “I’m sorry to the Prime Minister for all the grief that this has caused,” adding, “but ultimately in life you have to stand by the person that you care for and love in a difficult moment.”
Mr. Soudas and Ms. Adams, both dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives who chose and proudly wore their political stripes at a young age, met professionally in May of 2011, shortly before Mr. Soudas announced he would be leaving as director of communications. He said then that he was leaving to spend more time with his wife and family, including a new baby, tweeting, “Priority 1 my wife and 3 kids.” So when he parted ways with his spouse and news emerged that November that he was dating Ms. Adams, who had separated from her husband, there were those within the party who were put off and confused.
“That didn’t sit well with many people,” said one former political staffer who worked with Mr. Soudas on the Hill.
There were also those who said que sera, sera. “Life happens, right?” Mr. Butt said. “They found each other, and that’s great. I wish them the best.”
Ms. Adams, mother to an eight-year-old son, separated from Peter Adams in the summer of 2011, Mr. Adams said, noting they met through their Conservative activism. The two, who still co-own an Ottawa home, have not yet divorced and “still have some details to work out,” Mr. Adams said, citing the MP’s “dynamic schedule” for the delay in finalizing the split and saying, “we’ll do it when we do it.” Mr. Soudas divorced his wife several months ago.
“If you were to ask Eve or I, we’re divorced,” Mr. Adams said. “Eve and I are both moving on with our lives.… I wish Eve and Dimitri the best. There’s no animosity.”
Mr. Adams was Ms. Adams’ campaign manager for the 2003, 2006 and 2010 Mississauga council elections and also for the 2011 election. He and her older brother were charged with possession of stolen property after two rival candidates’ signs went missing, but those charges were dropped after he made a donation to charity. He denies any signs were stolen, and Ms. Adams said at the time, “I’m not interested in dirty politics.”
The 2011 election had its own twists. This time, her paperwork was not in order by deadline. Records show she sought two extensions from Elections Canada, one for a late audit, another for permission to pay expenses more than a year later. She spent more than $25,000 – about one quarter of a roughly $106,000 budget – on phone-based campaigning during the race. Among the expenses Elections Canada authorized her campaign to pay later was $424.80 in spa treatments and a $260.71 Shopper’s Drug Mart bill for products such as Neutrogena cleanser and whitening toothpaste. Elections Canada would have partly reimbursed such claims.
The latest news had its origins in February, 2013, when the commission redrawing Ontario’s new electoral map, with added seats, released its first report. It created a new riding of Oakville North-Burlington. Three months later, Ms. Adams told a local newspaper she would move to, and run in, the new riding. Incidentally, the new riding is a safe seat, with 52 per cent of its electors voting Conservative in 2011.
Property records show Mr. Soudas took possession of a house in the riding in July of that year. That same month, the new map was finalized. The couple have since made that their home base on weekends and when the House is not sitting.
In the fall of 2013, Mr. Soudas ran unsuccessfully for Oakville’s local Conservative riding association, which was largely won by supporters of Natalia Lishchyna, a chiropractor who is fighting Ms. Adams for the nomination. He soon took on the role of Conservative Party executive director.
Rumblings in the riding began when Conservatives started to receive mail from Ms. Adams in Oakville, which is within the rules for an MP, but odd, given it is not her current riding. Then there was a March 19 board meeting at which Ms. Adams allegedly verbally abused members and said she would use her access to party data to look up how much the president donated to the party annually, according to an April 1 letter from the riding association to the Prime Minister.
A standoff ensued while Mr. Soudas waited in the hallway to drive home Ms. Adams, who is recovering from the concussion she suffered following a fall outside an Ottawa restaurant after her fiancé “got a hankering for corned beef” late this winter.
Under Mr. Soudas, the executive director position was more powerful than when it was held by Dan Hilton, who performed a more bureaucratic role. Mr. Soudas, for example, reported directly to the Prime Minister.
Mr. Soudas, however powerful in that role, was not hired to run the 2015 campaign. “It wasn’t like he was going to be in charge of the war room, or it wasn’t like he was going to be the one that was doing up our ads or anything like that,” the Tory insider said.
Mr. Soudas’ resignation is among several departures from prominent posts in recent years. He left the Prime Minister’s Office in June, 2011, and later that year took over communications at the Canadian Olympic Committee. He left the committee ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics to launch his own public-relations firm, Dimitri Soudas Communications. COC president Marcel Aubut praised Mr. Soudas’ work and said the committee was “disappointed” when he left since his “contribution was absolutely huge.”
Mr. Soudas is slated to return to the private sector and promises to work hard at helping his fiancée secure the nomination in the new riding.
Ms. Adams, for her part, is preparing a defence to submit to the party, but has so far refused to disclose what it says, saying she doesn’t want to fight these battles in public. The party hasn’t even formally opened the nomination race in Oakville North-Burlington. Once it does, both Ms. Adams and Ms. Lishchyna will need to have their candidacy approved to be accepted formally as candidates.
The MP says she’s on the mend and will be back to work soon.
With reports from Steven Chase, Jill Mahoney and Rick Cash