Dimitri Soudas, a long-time Stephen Harper loyalist hand-picked by the Prime Minister to prepare the Conservative Party for the next election, was forced to resign after a series of incidents where he personally intervened in a tightly contested nomination race on behalf of fiancée and MP Eve Adams.
The exit of Mr. Soudas as executive director of the Conservative Party is another controversial staff departure for Mr. Harper who lost chief of staff Nigel Wright in 2013 when he resigned over a secret payment to Senator Mike Duffy. It's also a blow to the Tories' election-readiness plans.
The Conservative Party went so far as to conduct its own investigation, combing through e-mails and phone records, to determine whether Mr. Soudas had breached a provision in his contract as executive director of the Tories that stipulated he must recuse himself from Ms. Adams's efforts to secure a nomination as candidate for the 2015 election, sources say.
The examples piled up, sources say, including Mr. Soudas making calls to solicit support for Ms. Adams, who is the MP for Mississauga-Brampton South but is trying to jump ridings to win the nomination for Oakville North-Burlington, where the couple now live.
In late March, an administrative assistant in Conservative Party headquarters was also found to have made calls to arrange a door-knocking campaign for Ms. Adams in Oakville. The MP also appeared to have access to updated Conservative party memberships in the riding significantly sooner than her rival did.
As executive director, Mr. Soudas was charged with ensuring that the party nominates candidates in all ridings across Canada and as such, had significant influence over these contests. It was crucial for party morale that his position be seen as above reproach.
The assistance extended to Ms. Adams caused a groundswell of opposition within the party from MPs, rank-and-file activists and other Conservative stalwarts upset at what they felt was favouritism being shown to one MP, sources say.
Many Conservative MPs tried to steer clear of Mr. Soudas's departure Monday but Industry Minister James Moore, when asked what this exit said about Mr. Harper, who approved his hiring, moved to defend the Prime Minister. "Hire on merit, fire on performance," he told reporters.
The party confronted Mr. Soudas in March after receiving early indications that he had been helping Ms. Adams. He was given a "stern warning," sources say. It was in the days that followed that evidence of his intervention became overwhelming, sources say.
Mr. Soudas declined to comment on the nature of the allegations Monday.
Mr. Soudas, a former veteran aide to Mr. Harper, served as his director of communications before leaving the PMO in 2011. He was known as an effective but polarizing figure. He later worked as head of communications at the Canadian Olympic Committee. Before returning to the Conservative Party in December, he sought and obtained assurances from the RCMP that he was not a suspect in an investigation into allegations of arm-twisting to fill the top position at the Montreal Port Authority in 2007.
Ms. Adams is running for the Tory nomination in Oakville North-Burlington against a chiropractor, Natalia Lishchyna, in a closely fought race. Ms. Lishchyna's supporters nearly swept the nomination races for the local Conservative board.
Mr. Soudas attended the board meeting on March 19, waiting outside at the time but seen by others at the meeting. In that meeting, sources said Ms. Adams was asked to leave and a "standoff" ensued, according to one account. Other board members left instead.
The next day, an Oakville investment adviser hosted a 5 p.m. event for "Member of Parliament Eve Adams," telling people in an e-mail that Mr. Soudas and former environment minister Peter Kent would be there. "She will be meeting with the residents of Oakville," the invitation says.
The financial adviser, Mignonne Baddeliyanage, said Mr. Soudas did attend the event, which began after a one of the adviser's clients was approached to host an event. The client couldn't, but Ms. Baddeliyanage offered to do so instead, though she says she's not a card-carrying member of any party. "I was not someone who was actively supporting anybody, but for me this was a great opportunity to meet with these people and help them do whatever they needed to do – campaign," Ms. Baddeliyanage.
The planned event initially included Mr. Soudas and Ms. Adams, and Mr. Kent was added the evening before the event, she said. Public photos of the event later appeared on Ms. Adams's Facebook page, images showing her and Mr. Kent but not Mr. Soudas.
It was that same day that Wally Butts, the party organizer, wrote to a Conservative official saying he was in an untenable situation in the area – overseeing a race where Ms. Adams, the partner of his boss, was at odds with the local board. He appealed for help in dealing with complaints from the board. He was dismissed March 21.
The issue became public the next week, with Mr. Butts saying it was now in the hands of his lawyer.
Mr. Soudas has been driving the MP to nomination meetings because she's recovering from a concussion suffered about six weeks ago.
With reports from Daniel Leblanc