Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Harper has some explaining to do

More for the Harper government contempt files today. An issue of political interference by the Prime Minister's Office in the Port of Montreal's dealings is in the news. Specifically, the appointment of a new head of that body. It's not something the federal government has any role in. Yet Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for the Prime Minister, admitted yesterday that they did get involved, contrary to testimony he gave at a parliamentary committee looking into political interference by the PMO in the matter (video here) . As you can see on the video, he was asked point blank by MP Raymonde Folco if he had met with the board regarding the appointment of a new candidate, something the federal government has no right to be involved in. He said no. But it was a different story from Soudas to reporters yesterday and as set out below, the candidate the PMO backed is of interest:
Mr. Soudas insisted Tuesday he did nothing wrong, and that the federal government merely indicated its preference for Mr. Abdallah. The board ultimately chose a different candidate, Patrice Pelletier, who was president of L-3 Communications SPAR Aerospace Ltd..

“There was no interference whatsoever,” he said. “We expressed a preference and made it crystal clear that the decision was ultimately for the Board of Directors of the Port of Montreal to take.”

However, in sworn testimony before the Commons Operations Committee in 2008, Mr. Soudas said that he “did not remember” contacting board members on the matter of Mr. Abdallah’s candidacy, and denied even meeting board members on the issue.
That testimony by Soudas is in question now. It's in the reporting that he did meet with board members over this appointment. 

That spin that they "expressed a preference?" That sounds mild and contrary to the reporting:
“There certainly was interference as they met us on the specific issue of the nomination of the new president. They tried to interfere, for sure,” said Mr. Bruneau, a Conservative fundraiser in the Mulroney and Charest eras.
Bruneau says his tenure on the board was threatened through Conservative channels if he didn't go along. The board went along with interviews that included Abdallah, who hadn't made the short list, because of that pressure.

Then there's this information which garners the story even more attention:
Mr. Soudas was not the only one who wanted Mr. Abdallah, a one-time Director General of the City of Montreal, appointed president of the port. Controversial construction industry boss Antonio Accurso was also supportive of Mr. Abdallah’s candidacy. Mr. Accurso’s construction firms recently pleaded guilty to tax evasion, and he has generated headlines for his close ties to a number of union and political officials in Quebec, several of whom vacationed on his luxury yacht.

Among these was Montreal councillor Frank Zampino, who also pushed for Mr. Abdallah to head the port. Mr. Zampino was criticized for going on Mr. Accurso’s yacht amid a controversy surrounding the city’s ballooning water-metering contract – a contract that was ultimately awarded to a group including Mr. Accurso.

In an interview, Mr. Accurso denied any involvement in the lobbying effort at the port. After his failed bid for the president’s job, Mr. Abdallah went on to work for Gastier Inc., a company that is part of Mr. Accurso’s business empire.
Former Tory cabinet minister Michael Fortier also confirmed to Radio-Canada that board members were approached by those claiming “Harper preferred Mr. Abdallah.”
That is an interesting coincidence of preferences for Mr. Abdallah being reported. Why Mr. Abdallah, Mr. Harper?

What the heck is going on in that PMO that Harper's own ministers - Fortier and Cannon - have to back him and his staffers off such interference? And why the political interference in something his office has no business interfering with?