FOR SOUDAS, IT SEEMS, LOVE CONQUERS LOYALTY. IT SHOULDN’T
Let’s talk about loyalty in politics by asking this question: Who is Dmitri Soudas without Stephen Harper?
Is he the senior adviser and director of communications to the prime minister? Or the national director of the Conservative Party of Canada? Would he have risen to serve as a senior executive to the Canadian Olympic Committee?
The answer is obvious. Without Stephen Harper he is none of these things. Without Stephen Harper what he would have made of himself is unknowable. But, as a former communications director to another prime minister, I know this much with unshaking certainty: Whatever standing I enjoy in this world, professionally and publicly, I owe entirely to Paul Martin.
What about innate talent and old-fashioned industry, you might ask? They matter. But, if we are to be entirely honest, those qualities are not so hard to come by in politics. The Reids and Soudases of the world are not so uncommon as we might like you to believe. There are many creative and hard-working people ready to serve as an adviser to the head of a G8 nation. We two, in our respective times, were simply fortunate enough to be chosen from among many.
It is due to this indisputable fact, and not some overheated sense of blind partisanship, that Stephen Harper would be justified in expecting the loyalty of his former adviser. He has not received it. Soudas, after steady promotion for a decade in and out of government, was personally recruited by the prime minister to run the Conservative party’s national headquarters in a time of election readiness. To the uninitiated that might just seem like a job. It is not. It is, in effect, a declaration by the nation’s leader that he is relying upon this individual to protect his job and political future. It is a bestowal of trust. Much more than an assignment, it is a privilege.
The one condition placed upon Soudas was reasonable — and a recognition of understandable human frailty. He was to not tamper with the nomination of partner Eve Adams. He was prohibited from using the institutional resources at his command to help her unfairly secure her position.
He did it anyway. And when his breach of trust was exposed, he was flagrantly unregretful, defending his conduct as the actions of a man in love.
Now, with news that Adams is becoming a Liberal, he is said to be taking a gigantic step farther. He will openly campaign for his partner, urging people to vote against the Conservatives and, by extension, working to defeat his old boss.
In the universe in which we come from — the relatively small community of senior political advisers who are lent the privilege of sharing moments of stress and privacy with the nation’s leaders — that is as wrong as wrong gets.
I understand that Soudas is in love (although, as arguments go, it causes a slight involuntary cringe). I recognize his desire to lend support to his partner, to be by her side and to help her succeed. Perhaps I’m unsentimental, but there must be other ways to discharge that obligation. Offer support privately. Keep your counsel quiet. Above all, as a matter of simple good taste, never, ever, be publicly aligned against the prime minister who gave you your career.
It may seem strange to people, but there is, and there ought to be such a thing as binding loyalty. Even in politics. Even in an arena where alliances are broken, floors are crossed and careers get crushed.
Perhaps you think that’s naïve. Maybe you think that’s just the way the game is played — that everyone screws everyone else for the slightest bit of advantage. You would be wrong.
Prime ministers in particular, need — and deserve — the comfort of complete and uncompromised trust in the people they select to staff their team.
They need to know that staff will — barring some disregard of ethics or legality — always have their back. Always respect their confidence. Always stand with them. For today. And for tomorrow.
It is a matter of functionality. A PMO cannot work otherwise. More fundamentally, it is a matter of integrity.
I would saw off my right arm before working against Paul Martin, because I owe him everything and I have the good sense to remember that.
Nearly every senior staffer I’ve ever known — Conservative, Liberal and NDP alike — feels the same toward their past or present bosses.
Maybe you don’t like Stephen Harper. Maybe you want him to lose the next election. But to those advisers to whom he has shown loyalty, he still has the right to expect loyalty in return.
Let’s hope this particular instance is an aberration and not yet another dismal example of lowered standards in our system of politics.