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Spokesman Dimitri Soudas and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper leave a campaign event in St. John's on April 21, 2011. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Spokesman Dimitri Soudas and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper leave a campaign event in St. John's on April 21, 2011. (Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Harper stands firm in face of calls to fire his top spokesman Add to ...

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is defending spokesman Dimitri Soudas as other party leaders raise allegations of wrongdoing in relation to widespread pressures on the Port of Montreal to appoint a president close to members of the Quebec construction industry.

"The allegations are categorically false," Mr. Harper told reporters Thursday morning.

On the campaign trail, the leaders of the Liberal Party and the Bloc Québécois referred to publicly available recordings of phone conversations in which the presidents of a construction firm and an engineering firm discussed ways to influence the 2007 appointment.

According to the Bloc Québécois, the three recordings feature the president of a number of construction firms, Antonio Accurso. In one of the recordings, Mr. Accurso talked to Bernard Poulin, president of engineering firm SM Group International, according to the Bloc.

Quoting a recording that has been posted on social networks and some media websites, Mr. Duceppe said Mr. Accurso and Mr. Poulin were seeking ways to influence then-transport minister Lawrence Cannon and the chairman of the board at the Port at the time, Marc Bruneau. Their goal, according to the Bloc, was to find ways to support the appointment of Robert Abdallah, a former bureaucrat at the City of Montreal and the former lead manager on construction projects at Hydro-Québec.

Mr. Abdallah did not win the nomination, but The Globe and Mail and Radio-Canada revealed this week that senior ministers in the Harper government and members of the board at the Port felt the Conservative government tried to interfere in his favour.

Quoting from the recordings, Mr. Duceppe said Mr. Poulin described Mr. Soudas as "the boss in Quebec, Mr. Cannon's real boss, he can give an order to Bruneau to push for so and so."

Mr. Duceppe continued to quote from the recording, stating Mr. Poulin said "compensation could be offered if the goods are delivered," adding that Mr. Accurso agreed with the assertion.

Mr. Poulin and Mr. Accurso both planned to call upon Leo Housakos, a close political ally of Mr. Soudas, to help them in their efforts, the Bloc said.

Mr. Soudas rejected any allegation of wrongdoing on the campaign trail.

"The Prime Minister's Office is padlocked for anyone who wants to influence any decision," Mr. Soudas told reporters. "People pretending, or people having discussions, that is their business, but at no point in time did anybody contact the federal government, or me, and make such an insinuation. It is absolutely ridiculous."

Mr. Soudas said he "never, ever, ever" received any money or gifts. If he had received anything he would have turned it over to the authorities.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the Conservative Party's handling of the nomination at the Montreal Port shows "contempt for Canadians."

"Harper must fire Soudas on the spot," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters.

Mr. Duceppe raised allegations that Conservative officials "worked hand-in-hand" with Mr. Accurso, who was administrator of two companies that recently pleaded guilty to tax evasion.

Mr. Duceppe said he was particularly concerned by Mr. Accurso's statement in one of the recordings that "the big boss gave the order right then and there to Cannon" in favour of Mr. Abdallah's candidacy. According to Mr. Duceppe, this suggested that Mr. Accurso "scheme actually paid off."

"The Conservative Leader has to provide answers," Mr. Duceppe said.

The Globe and Mail left phone messages on Thursday with Mr. Accurso, Mr. Housakos, and Mr. Abdallah.

In a statement, Mr. Poulin, Groupe SM International president, called on a Montreal-based news website to take down a recording of a telephone call that was "intercepted without his permission."

In an interview a week ago, Mr. Poulin said he never discussed the matter with Mr. Accurso. "Absolutely not."

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