Welcome to the government operations committee. We have a number of witnesses here today.
I would like to start off by saying that we'd like to give you five to ten minutes for opening statements, except there are a number of you and I don't know how many of you have statements. Could you give me an indication of how many of you have statements, as we're going to shorten the time?
I see there are three or four. Perhaps just take five minutes each. That's all I will allow; otherwise we won't have enough time for questions and answers afterwards.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I had an opening statement that was 10 minutes long, but I will shorten it and try to deal with the four discrepancies that were disseminated by the media in the week of January 27 to 28. As a result of those falsehoods and allegations that have been substantiated without a shred of evidence, I find myself before you.
The first is a characterization that was made of me in a Le Téléjournal report by Patrice Roy, as a Conservative bagman for Quebec. He said I was an important collector of funds for the Conservative Party. That's the first falsehood.
In 2006 I took it upon myself to raise funds for the party I've supported for years. I was never a bagman and I was never responsible for the fundraising activities in Quebec. I didn't participate in any fundraising committee during that election campaign. On my own initiative I solicited my friends, my family, and various associates. Respecting the federal electoral law, I sent the proceeds of those efforts to the Conservative Party headquarters by mail. That was the extent of my involvement in the 2006 federal election campaign.
Since January 2006 I have never solicited anybody for the Conservative Party in Quebec. I've not raised any funds for the Conservative Party in Quebec. I've declined two or three invitations to participate on fundraising committees for fundraising activities in 2006 and 2007. Further, since my nomination to the board of VIA Rail at the end of 2007, I've refrained from any political activity at the federal level.
Putting those facts on the table, I think one would agree that referring to me as an important party bagman in Quebec is a gross exaggeration.
The second point I want to be clear on is that I'm not and have never been a registered or unregistered lobbyist for any company or individual for the federal government. It has never happened. Under the federal lobbying act, as I understand it, if I ever did anything that constituted lobbying, all I had to do was go online and register. Nothing prevents me, and nothing would prevent me, like the thousands of others, from registering as a lobbyist.
The third discrepancy is in regard to news reports that this now famous April 6, 2006, meeting between myself, John Lemieux, and Frédéric Loiselle was organized somehow or put together by Dimitri Soudas. That is false. I solicited the meeting directly with Mr. Loiselle, who I've known for a number of years. It was pertaining to a specific subject. I never asked Mr. Soudas to intervene in organizing that meeting for me. I've never asked Mr. Soudas to organize any meeting for me with anybody in this government. I've never asked anybody in the Prime Minister's Office to ever intervene to organize a meeting for me or anybody else.
I know I'm running out of time, Madam Chair, but I think my fourth point is an important one for everyone around the table. It's on the so-called second file in the rapportage of Le Téléjournal. It depicted me having clandestine meetings with potential suppliers to the defence ministry, showing aircraft carriers, and planes flying all over the place.
What's the saying, Mr. Roy and Mr. Leblanc? Don't let the facts get in the way of a good, sexy scandal. That's the reality. The facts of this supposed meeting are that I had dinner with two gentlemen in Montreal in a restaurant, a very public place. The dinner was put together by a mutual friend of mine and these two gentlemen in question. Mr. Soudas made an unscheduled appearance that day for dinner. He called me that afternoon in Montreal and said, “I'm in Montreal, Léo, visiting my ill mom.” It was not unusual for me to say, “Dimitri, why don't you hop on by and have supper with me tonight?”
At that dinner meeting one of the two gentlemen in question--the Liberal members around the table might know who he is--was Roch Charron. I understood from the meeting that he was a former attaché politique to a former federal Liberal cabinet minister. The second gentleman there was from the same company--I assumed they both worked for the same company. The company name was Alenia. I don't recall the name of the second gentleman. He was an Italian fellow from Italy living in Canada. He worked for the company, represented the company. In all honesty, I don't recall the name because it wasn't very important.
I think it's an important fact, Madam Chair, for the--
Thank you, Madam Chair. Merci, madame la présidente.
Good morning. I am pleased to appear before this committee with my principal, the Prime Minister's chief of staff, who's here with me today.
In the interest of saving the members some time, I will attempt to ensure that my opening statement and answers to your questions are concise and to the point.
As this committee is already aware, my name is Dimitri Soudas.
I was born in Montreal, Quebec and I have been working for thesince February 6, 2006.
Prior to that, I worked for Mr. Harper while he was in opposition. I began working for him in 2002 as his press secretary, as well as director of community relations for a short period of time.
Before coming to Ottawa in 2002, I worked for the City of Montreal, in the Mayor's Office, until June 2002.
My current responsibilities in the Prime Minister's Office are twofold. I work as deputy press secretary and I also work as his advisor on Quebec issues.
In my role as press secretary, I have the pleasure of liaising with the media on a daily basis regarding current affairs. In my role as an advisor on Quebec-related issues, I provide advice, handle Quebec-related files. To be brief--as I said I would be--I'm a political staff member who generally assists the PMO with its communications and general public outreach.
In my role as an advisor to the PMO concerning matters that pertain to Quebec, I provide briefings and assistance on matters relating to policy analysis, liaise with other levels of government, provide support to our caucus, and monitor policy development and advisory services.
To give the members a little more detail, I provide policy analysis and research by conceptualizing and defining appropriate strategies, I assist on positions on policy development, and I act as a contact point at the Prime Minister's Office with respect to matters relating to the province of Quebec.
Finally--not to take, as you stated, Madam Chair, too much of the committee's time on an opening statement--I also performed various other special assignments as directed by others in the Prime Minister's Office, including Ian Brodie, the Prime Minister's chief of staff.
As the members of this committee should be aware, I am a ministerial staff member. I would like to stress for members of the committee that I am a political employee, not a member of the public service.
Finally, I trust that the members will appreciate that the position and the answers will rest, obviously, on what you decide to ask me.
In conclusion, Madam Chair, the office of the Ethics Commissioner is a quasi-judicial body created by an act of Parliament, as you all know. That office, at my request, has now full jurisdiction to look into this matter. I'm sure this committee and its members fully agree that the Ethics Commissioner's process should be respected.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Yes. I'll try to condense it.
Good morning, Madam Chair and everybody else.
I would just like to clear up some things that were said about our company. Being the president of Rostrust, I would like to correct some statements made in certain newspaper articles about basically the option aspect.
There was a judgment by the Honourable R. Smith on January 30, 2007. I will read one part of it:
||For the above reasons, I find that the Crown did not validly exercise the option when it gave notice on June 25, 2004 of its intention to purchase the leased premises for a price of zero dollars with the closing to occur on June 30, 2010.
That judgment was released at the beginning of 2007.
Further on, it says the following:
||In view of my finding that the option was not validly exercised, the Crown is not entitled to purchase the Property on June 30, 2010 in accordance with the terms set out in the Crown's notice.
Basically, that was contrary to what the crown thought, that it could buy it for zero. We rejected it from the beginning. We never thought there was any chance for the crown to buy it at zero, and that was the judgment.
Another record that I would like to correct is that since the beginning of 2004, the crown has taken over full responsibility for the management of the building. We have no input whatsoever in running that building. Therefore, whatever happens and whatever is going on is not part of our responsibility.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, Ms. Chair. Thank you to the witnesses.
Mr. Soudas, I'm going to start with you. First, thank you for being here. We weren't sure that you were going to make it. There was a lot of back and forth, a lot of liaising, and we weren't sure you were going to be with this committee.
You said you had asked for the meeting with Public Works and Government Services officials on the Rosdev file in August 2006 at the request of a municipal councillor. Can you tell us who that municipal councillor was?
Rosdev came to the Ottawa and Gatineau area to purchase the first building in 1991. That was in Gatineau, Les Terrasses de la Chaudière. Then they went on to buy a couple more buildings. In January 1996 they purchased the building called L'Esplanade Laurier—it was Rostrust.
We became the largest landlord of the government at that time. When we took over the building—L'Esplanade Laurier—it was from a trustee in the bankruptcy of O and Y, and there was a lot of dispute at that time already. We tried to sort it out. We had many meetings with different officials at Public Works in their offices, trying to come to some conclusion and to see if we could come to a certain understanding. Unfortunately, time was running. Some people did want to make a settlement, not to get into a lawsuit; some others from Public Works did not want to.
There came the time that, based on our lawyers' advice, we had no choice but to institute a lawsuit, because that was becoming prescribed after certain years. Once we instituted a lawsuit, there was a lot of money owing in operations to the building, because, as I said before, there were many disputes outstanding at the time we took over from the O and Y trustee.
Yes. We were stepping into the shoes of what they already had with O and Y. Since time was going, we had many meetings with different ADMs, with Public Works, with officials, and with different parties--Liberal Party, Conservative Party--trying to see if there could be some kind of understanding to settle this file. We tried and we couldn't get it, as I said before, so we had no choice but to institute a legal proceeding. There was a lot of money owing to the company.
Since then, things have been going down. We were hitting our head against a wall since our lawsuit. Then they started a notice of an option, which didn't make any sense whatsoever, and we went to court and won on that, but they threw everything at us.
We tried our best to run the buildings in the proper fashion. We did do it until the beginning of 2004. At the beginning of 2004, out of the blue they took away our management, based on no default. Never was there any indication or letter, verbally or written, that we mismanaged or that we did anything wrong. On the contrary, we had many letters of praise, which I have in the file, praising us for good-quality management skills. Actually, we scored 93% in one of our buildings, which was the highest in the region.
I'm trying to get a sense of why you and why not Mr. Fortier? Mr. Rosenberg clearly has met with Public Works ministers, and it would be, I would figure, fairly rational that Mr. Rosenberg meet with Public Works officials because he's a landlord of the government.
Why you? Why not Mr. Fortier? Did Mr. Fortier tell you to hold this meeting—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
First of all, to come back to Mr. Rosenberg's political activities, my understanding, and I think the understanding of everyone around this table, is that anybody, any member of the Canadian public, can go to any kind of fundraising event no matter what the party is, pay whatever the entrance fee is, and so on and so forth.
Even James Moore can actually...I'm sure you have in the past. I don't want to presuppose anything, Mr. Moore, but I'm sure in the past you must have bought a ticket at some kind of fundraising event.
I have some questions for the witnesses.
I believe we have met before, Mr. Soudas? Can you recall under what circumstances?
Okay. Thank you very much for that.
As it so happens, Mr. Soudas, I am acquainted with several of the people who are here today. Mr. Tremblay is also my municipal councillor. I live in Montreal, not Laval.
Aside from Mr. Tremblay, who is a municipal councillor, have you had any contacts in the past with other councillors, or with other Montreal municipal councillors?
It's just that you always ask us to repeat the question.
This is a quote from the Prime Minister, Mr. Soudas:
||Mr. Soudas said that a Montreal city councillor approached him about an issue and he set about looking into it.
||That is the nature of the work ministers and staff do here: they have a responsibility to look into issues. That is not interference, it is how the government works. Mr. Soudas was doing his job.
Did you mislead the Prime Minister on this? This wasn't a municipal councillor. Mr. Tamburello, as you know, and as you must have known at the time, was no longer a municipal councillor.
Mr. Housakos, you made the following statement to Radio-Canada: “I simply wanted to find some way to make sure that Rosdev was being treated properly by the government”. So then, at that point, if I understand correctly, you acknowledged that you were lobbying Minister Fortier's chief of staff on Rosdev's behalf.
Is that an accurate assessment of the situation?
I had heard that rumour at various functions on many occasions from the leaders of the Hasidic community and other leaders.
Two or three months earlier, in a communication I had with Mr. Lemieux, I asked him whether he was aware of it. Mr. Lemieux confirmed to me that he was aware of an ongoing conflict. He expressed the same point of view others have expressed: that in his opinion Rosdev Corporation was being mistreated.
I think I recall asking him whether he represented Rosdev, and he said he had represented Rosdev in the past. I had heard it from many people and I confirmed it from Mr. Lemieux.
It sounds pretty partisan. It sounds like you were pretty involved.
I'm wondering if I can go back to the comment made before by Madame Folco, because I think it's pretty key, and that's the quote of the Prime Minister. I don't know if you need me to read that again, but to paraphrase the Prime Minister, he had said that you had indicated to him that it was a municipal councillor that had contacted you. So did you mislead the Prime Minister? I don't see anything about “former”. And why on earth would you be acting for former councillors? That doesn't make any sense to me.
So did you mislead the Prime Minister?
Now that we've clarified and made our introductions, it's “pleased to meet you and thank you for coming”. I thank each one of the witnesses. I'm sorry to have taken your time. Obviously the suggestions that were being launched when we started this committee are something of a distant memory at this point, seeing as none of them have come to any type of a conclusion that is in any way similar to the allegations that were made.
Mr. Rosenberg, you did mention that at some point you had received letters from Mr. Scott Brison, I believe, the former Minister of Public Works, with regard to your relationship with him, you being a property owner and an owner of buildings that the federal government leased. I'm wondering if you could share with the committee the comments that are provided in that letter. I think what we're looking for is basically relationships. Now that we've established relationships with the people on the panel today, we'll take the time to look into other relationships that maybe have developed over the past number of years.
I understand that you have been in litigation with the federal government for some time, and I actually have in my possession a letter that I understand Mr. Scott Brison, a former Minister of Public Works, has sent to you. I'll just read a couple of comments:
||I have noted that Rosdev was established in the 1970's and has quickly grown to become a leader in the commercial and industrial real estate markets and the hotel industry in Canada and beyond.
|| In managing, developing and directing your vast commercial [retail] space with the Government of Canada, Rosdev has well-served the public interest and I trust that [our] ongoing relationship will continue to be mutually advantageous and beneficial.
Considering the lawsuit that you are engaged in with the federal government, do you feel this letter was interesting at least and maybe contradictory to the fact that you were engaged in litigation when he was the Minister of Public Works?
I don't know exactly the internal politics in Public Works, but it's sometimes strange to say the least. When you get to speak to the top people or to people who understand a file, they'll look to see how we were mistreated. But then you have some others who are, for whatever reason—I don't want to get into it, personal or other reasons—against Rosdev.
I'll read you just a sentence from another letter from Public Works on the issue we brought back from L'Esplanade Laurier when there was glycol that the government had wrongfully.... They managed that part and they contaminated the whole building. Over a holiday weekend we went to work overtime, we stayed in our property and made sure that by Tuesday morning--it was a holiday weekend, Canada Day--the government would be able to work properly in the building. It was Treasury Board, an important department. I have a letter here saying:
||The situation tested your stamina, patience, creativity and ability to work effectively as a team with other organizations and agencies.
So we had a lot of letters of praise.
I certainly appreciate everyone coming here today in this timely fashion, and I understand these are sensitive issues. We have to be careful because you have reputations in our community.
I just want to ask a few final wrap-up questions.
Mr. Housakos, you were quoted in the newspaper on January 31, 2008, saying that you were furious about how this came up. Yes, and you still are--and I can see that. You said, “[...] it's an inside job and that's what hurts the most”. What do you mean by that?
Mr. Soudas, we're just going back to this question of the PMO and your role. Now, you said I could ask it in question period and get a clear answer. I asked Mr. Van Loan, when this issue arose, and he said to me that any citizen can make a request to the Prime Minister's Office, who may then forward it to the minister involved. That's not a privilege to have a meeting. Any citizen has a right to be heard. But it wasn't forwarded to the minister; it was forwarded to you. So why is it that you've had to take this role upon yourself, and not Michael Fortier?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'm splitting my time with Patrick Brown, but I just wanted to wrap up with regard to Rosdev, because it's in the public interest here in terms of the litigation and all that.
Rosdev is in a number of deep legal disputes with the federal government, with millions of dollars at stake in this litigation.
Mr. Rosenberg, you've said you've never met with Minister Michael Fortier. You never met with Minister Fortier's former or current chiefs of staff. You never met Dimitri Soudas. You never met Mr. Housakos. You did meet previous Liberal ministers of Public Works during your litigation, which is highly irregular, and you did meet with previous Liberal ministers of Public Works, whom you paid to get access to those meetings, and while you were there, donating to the Liberal Party, paying to have access to these Liberal Public Works ministers, you were at the same time negotiating settlement of your multi-million-dollar lawsuits with the Department of Public Works. Isn't that a little dodgy?
I have some quick questions, but I know the time is limited.
We've heard reference from opposition MPs about meetings being organized, and they say so as if these are a big deal.
I want to ask you, Dimitri, have any opposition MPs asked you to look into files? Has an opposition MP ever asked you, in your capacity working for the Prime Minister, to look into a file?
It's odd they want to talk about this but have never asked us to investigate the files they want us to look into.
If I could I ask a quick question to Mr. Rosenberg regarding the letter we were referencing about this mutually advantageous relationship with Mr. Brison of the Liberal Party, I notice that the letter Mr. Brison wrote to you was on August 18, 2006. This was in the middle of the Liberal leadership race, after he had finished in his capacity as Minister of Public Works. He was referencing the fact that you had worked with the government for 15 years.
I'm curious, have you ever had a minister contact you with information that he would have had in his capacity as Minister of Public Works but was already finished in that capacity? Was he making fundraising donations during the Liberal leadership as well?
Would you like five minutes, Mr. Fortier?
Hon. Michael Fortier: No.
The Chair: You do not wish to make a presentation?
Hon. Michael Fortier: Not at all.
The Chair: Mr. Fortier doesn't have a statement, so would you like to begin the questioning?
Welcome, Mr. Fortier. As I was saying earlier, I have the impression that I'm attending a family gathering because everyone is from Laval. I hope Canada won't think that terrible things are happening in Laval. On the contrary, Laval is a very lovely city and a nice place to call home. We go back a long way, you and I. Welcome and thank you for agreeing to come here today.
When were you told that the PMO was interested in the Rosdev Group file?
Not with Mr. Lemieux, or with... Fine then.
As I said, the purpose of today's meeting is to shed some light on this whole affair. Perhaps I'm imagining things, but I find that many meetings have taken place since the early summer of 2006. We know that there have been several meetings, as well as numerous telephone calls.
Is it customary for the PMO and the office of the Minister of Public Works to schedule this many meetings before having officials intervene?
I have to admit that I'm learning a lot about your relations with the PMO as a review this matter. It makes me realize that you might be under pressure from all sides. As a result, I'm even more sympathetic to your plight, even if our relations haven't always been very gracious. I know it's unpleasant to be pressured in this manner and to try and resist. It is very clear to us that your office was pressured into trying to settle the Rosdev case.
You appeared before this committee when it looked into the sale of seven buildings and on numerous occasions, you were questioned about the sale and lease back or sale of these buildings. We maintained that it wasn't clear if this arrangement benefited the government and taxpayers.
Why is it that you never mentioned to us the legal proceedings against Rosdev and everything else surrounding this affair?
I just thought I'd put that into the record, since we obviously have a typical abuse of some of the activities that sometimes go on here.
Might I say, Minister, I think we've heard a fair bit of testimony today, and particularly about the close affiliation that Mr. Rosenberg had with regard to the Liberal Party, and the fundraisers, and on and on.
Of course, you're probably very, very familiar with Mr. Rosenberg. How many times have you been at events and how many times have you really run into Mr. Rosenberg? Has he had official meetings with you?
There's an inference that going directly to ministers such as yourself would dramatically change the course of the fortunes of people, and that ministers like yourself would arbitrarily just do things for individuals at the expense of the public treasury.
Now, since this government, our Conservative government, has come to power, and you've been a minister regarding Public Works, have there been any major changes in the direction of litigation or have there been any cases settled out of court with reference to the Rosdev file?
It's always good to follow up after my friend, Mr. Kramp, because he helped set up a very clear picture for us.
I remember the first time we met, Mr. Fortier, I said, “How many times do you meet lobbyists?” and you said, “I don't meet lobbyists.”