Top Harper aide held meeting on port hiring: report
Dimitri Soudas, the director of communication to Stephen Harper, appears on CTV's Power Play in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 8, 2010.
Published Tuesday, April 19, 2011 9:04PM EDT
MONTREAL - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's communications director met with Port of Montreal board members to try to push through a candidate for its vacant presidency in 2007, Radio-Canada and the Globe and Mail reported Tuesday.
The media outlets said Dimitri Soudas asked for a meeting with the three port board members who were tasked with choosing a successor to outgoing president Dominic Taddeo.
They said the meeting took place at Le Muscadin, an Italian restaurant in Old Montreal, in the spring of 2007.
Soudas has denied ever personally intervening in the selection process.
In February 2008, Liberal MP Raymonde Folco asked Soudas during a committee hearing in Ottawa whether he'd intervened. After a series of evasive responses, Folco cut to the chase.
"Did you meet with them (board members) to discuss this appointment?," Folco asked.
"No," Soudas replied.
Radio-Canada and the Globe said they conducted a joint investigation.
According to Radio-Canada sources, Soudas told the three board members that Robert Abdallah, a former director general at Montreal City Hall, was the choice of the federal government.
The three members in on the hiring process were Jeremy Bolger, Marc Bruneau and Diane Provost.
The law states the final decision on naming the president lies with the board of directors.
Bruneau said the reason for the meeting with Soudas was clear.
"There was certainly interference because he met us specifically on the nomination of the new president," Bruneau told Radio-Canada.
Michael Fortier, who at that time was public works minister, said he was told a meeting had been held.
"They told me at my office that members of the Montreal Port Authority's board of directors had been approached by people claiming to speak on behalf of the prime minister, and that they'd suggested . . . to these members that Mr. Harper preferred Mr. Abdallah," Fortier told Radio-Canada.
Fortier said he reminded the board they had the right to choose who they wanted.
Soudas has acknowledged in the past that the government had "indicated its preference" when the Port of Montreal was in the process of choosing a new boss.
In an interview with The Canadian Press in the fall of 2009, Soudas bristled at a question about recommending people to government postings.
"It wasn't the Prime Minister's Office," Soudas said. "The Government of Canada had indicated a preference but ultimately the board of directors made its own decision and it wasn't Mr. Abdallah as you know."
The job eventually went to Patrice Pelletier.
In an email to Radio-Canada on Tuesday, Soudas again denied any interference and insisted it was just an indication of preference.
Reached by telephone, Abdallah told Radio-Canada that any pressure that might have been placed regarding his candidacy was unbeknownst to him.