Skip to main content

Dimitri Soudas, Stephen Harper's communications director, briefs reporters at a Conservative rally in Hamilton on April 7, 2011.Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail

Stephen Harper says he's not shuffling his campaign team despite the controversy dogging a Conservative senator and a senior aide about pressure applied to the Port of Montreal to appoint a president favoured by the Quebec construction industry.

"I think I've answered these questions," he told reporters at a Saturday campaign stop in the Greater Toronto area.

"We're not making any changes here," the Conservative Leader said, apparently addressing speculation about whether he would take measures to deal with allegations against Tory Senator Leo Housakos and Dimitri Soudas, director of communications for the Harper Prime Minister's Office.

Mr. Harper has already said there was nothing unusual about his office's efforts to influence the appointment of a new president at the Montreal Port Authority in 2007 - actions that his partisan critics say amounted to political interference.

Ignoring concerns raised by a former minister and members of the board at the port, Mr. Harper maintains that his spokesman and other Conservative officials had every right to promote the candidacy of Montreal engineer Robert Abdallah.

Taped conversations that emerged Thursday showed how two Montreal businessman felt that Conservative organizer - and now senator - Leo Housakos was the perfect middleman to get help in their efforts to promote Mr. Abdallah.

Ultimately, the Port ignored this pressure from the Tories and appointed someone else.

On Saturday, Mr. Harper was asked what role Mr. Housakos played in the nomination process at the Port of Montreal and whether he's still part of the Conservative campaign team and caucus.

The Conservative Leader played down the matter. "We are talking about a nomination that took place some four years ago," he said.

"The nomination specifically that you're speaking of did not take place. The [Port's]board of directors made another decision," Mr. Harper said.

"The government has accepted that decision four years ago and I have nothing to add to that."

The taped conversations that surfaced Thursday show Bernard Poulin and Antonio Accurso, presidents of big firms in the engineering and construction sectors, were convinced Mr. Housakos could enlist Mr. Soudas in their efforts to push Robert Abdallah into the Port presidency in 2007.

"Soudas is the boss in Quebec, the real boss," Mr. Poulin said in an excerpt quoted by Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe. "It's not through Leo's relationship to [Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence]Cannon that he's good, it's through Dimitri Soudas. So far, he appears to be very capable of delivering the goods."

The recordings were widely quoted on the campaign trail and ignited a political firestorm, leading to calls for Mr. Soudas's firing given he did in fact participate in widespread efforts by the Conservative government to promote Mr. Abdallah's bid to oversee the Port.