Prime Minister Stephen Harper's choice as the Conservative Party's executive director has been pushed out after four months on the job, following an uproar over a local nomination race involving his spouse.
Dimitri Soudas stepped down on Sunday, party spokesman Cory Hann said. Mr. Soudas was said to have tendered his resignation to Senator Irving Gerstein, the party's fundraising chief.
Mr. Soudas, a former spokesman for the Prime Minister, was approved as executive director in December after it was made clear to the party's national council that he was Mr. Harper's pick for the job. After Mr. Soudas took the job at the Conservative Party, he explained privately to people in Ottawa that he had received the request directly from Mr. Harper to return to the world of politics. He also portrayed his mandate as bringing back a greater efficiency to the Conservative machine after a series of political setbacks.
Mr. Soudas's resignation is the latest blow for Mr. Harper's team. Last fall, three senators the Prime Minister appointed – Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin – were suspended amid an ongoing investigation, and earlier this month the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Harper's nominee, Marc Nadon. The departure also follows that of Mr. Harper's then chief of staff, Nigel Wright, who stepped down in May, 2013 after it was revealed he gave money to Mr. Duffy to repay expense claims. The party also lost Senator Doug Finley, a key strategist in Tory election campaigns, when he passed away last year.
It leaves the Conservative Party switching executive directors at a time when local nomination battles are perking up as the party prepares for an election due in 2015.
Nomination contests were being coordinated by Mr. Soudas. Sources said his contract, however, stipulated he would have no involvement the nomination race involving his partner, incumbent MP Eve Adams.
But complaints surfaced last week that he had become involved, however tangentially. It was revealed Mr. Soudas had dismissed a party organizer, Wally Butts, who'd complained to the party after an appearance that Ms. Adams made at a local board meeting, one where sources say some board members asked her to leave. While a Conservative source insisted the dismissal was unrelated to Ms. Adams's race, it nonetheless prompted complaints from Ontario Conservatives that Mr. Soudas was overstepping his role by getting involved in his spouse's race.
Ms. Adams currently represents the riding of Mississauga-Brampton South, and is in the unusual position of campaigning for a nomination in another, nearby riding, saying she moved to Oakville last year and wants to seek a seat there.
The organizer, Mr. Butts, wrote to party brass one day after Ms. Adams attended the board meeting, March 20. "I am in a totally untenable position in this matter as Dimitri is my ultimate boss. Can you please take action in this matter to straighten out this worsening mess?" Mr. Butts wrote to Conservative political operations director Fred DeLorey.
Mr. Butts was dismissed by Mr. Soudas on March 21. In e-mails to party officials, Conservative supporters criticized the "non-professional" dismissal of Mr. Butts and stressed he'd been an effective employee. At the time, the party would only say it was "running fair and open nominations" and declined comment on Mr. Butts.
Reached Sunday evening, Mr. Butts said he'd just heard the news. He'd previously said he'd consulted a lawyer since his dismissal from the party.
"I haven't even had a chance to think about it, but I'd prefer not to talk about it until I talk to the lawyers about it," Mr. Butts said, later adding: "I have no idea what's going to happen here other than the fact I just heard he stepped down."
Asked if he'd return to his job as a regional organizer – with the man who dismissed him now gone – Mr. Butts said "that's something that's going to be discussed."
Mr. Soudas is also now expected to focus his attention squarely on Ms. Adams's nomination battle, a date for which has not been set. He is said to be seeking work in the private sector.
The party's chief information officer, Simon Thompson, will serve as interim executive director. Mr. Soudas's departure is effective immediately.
With a report from Daniel Leblanc