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Soudas resigns from party over riding fight

Soudas resigns from party over riding fightDimitri Soudas answers questions in Riviere-du-Loup, Que. on April 20, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

OTTAWA - The Conservative party lost top 2015 election organizer Dimitri Soudas Sunday, amid mounting concerns he was using his position to help his fiancee's nomination bid in a suburban Toronto riding.

Party brass have been trying to convince grassroots Conservatives that they can count on open and fair nominations across the country, with no favouritism shown toward incumbent MPs.

But Soudas, who is close to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, appeared not to have heeded a requirement in his contract as executive director that he steer clear of the riding of Oakville-North Burlington where his partner MP Eve Adams intends to run.

Party sources say that despite the high connections Soudas has in the party, the evidence of interference in the Oakville nomination battle had grown too large to ignore and he had become "a distraction."

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Soudas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Riding association presidents received a sudden email from party president John Walsh late Sunday evening informing them of the departure.

"Earlier this evening I was notified of the resignation of Dimitri Soudas as executive director, effective immediately," Walsh wrote, in a email obtained by The Canadian Press.

The straw that appears to have broken the camel's back was word within the party that a doorknocking campaign for Adams in Oakville-North Burlington had been organized straight out of Soudas' office at party headquarters.

A source said that there was also a report to the party that a recent fundraising meet-and-greet for Adams in the riding featured Soudas' name.

Earlier this month, party members complained after Soudas showed up in a hallway outside the riding's Conservative association board meeting to pick up Adams.

Most of the Oakville-North Burlington Conservative riding board supports Adams' rival for the nomination, local chiropractor Natalia Lishchyna. Adams currently represents the non-adjacent riding of Mississauga-Brampton South.

Veteran party organizer Wally Butts complained to party brass about the Soudas-Adams dynamic in an email, and shortly afterward was let go. Two party sources told The Canadian Press his departure was unrelated to the email, but the firing caused an uproar in local Conservative circles.

The interim replacement for Soudas is Simon Thompson, the party's top technology man and former executive at Mitel.

Soudas had only come back to work for the Conservatives in December, leaving a senior job at the Canadian Olympic Committee just months before the games in Sochi. Prior to that, Soudas was director of communications inside the prime minister's office. He had worked alongside Harper since opposition days.

Adams is also facing accusations that she misused public funds when she sent mail into the riding she wants to represent using House of Commons resources. She has said she did not break any rules.

Last week, the party's national council sent a rebuke to MP Rob Anders for what they called "inappropriate" and "misleading" phone calls made in the context of a heated nomination battle in a Calgary riding.

The two cases — the Soudas departure and the Anders rebuke — were strong signals the party means business on the fairness of the nomination battles.

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