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2008-02-14

Another Attack on Hellenic Culture - One more example of Bigotry for Ethic Greeks

Prime Minister Stephen Harper gestures as he responds during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

During question period on Wednesday, Bloc MP Michel Guimond asked Harper why his deputy press secretary, Dimitri Soudas, tried to intervene in a dispute between Public Works and a Montreal developer called Rosdev Group in 2006.

Conservative party fundraiser Leo Housakos, who now sits on the board of Via Rail, also tried to intervene in the dispute around the same time.

"The prime minister cannot plead ignorance concerning what Mr. Housakos did," said Guimond.

"It was his own government that appointed him to Via Rail. In that context, can the prime minister tell us whether he himself has met Mr. Housakos at 24 Sussex, his official residence?"

Harper shot back in French: "The Bloc member mentioned two people who are of Greek origin: one who was an employee here in Ottawa, another one who is a supporter of the Conservative party in Montreal. The fact that (there's) two Montreal gentlemen of Greek origin doesn't mean there's a conspiracy here."

Liberal MP John Cannis, who is Greek-Canadian, rose on a point of order and demanded that Harper "apologize publicly to each and every Greek-Canadian."

He said Harper's comment "put a black mark on the over half-a-million Greek-Canadians that played even a small role in the development of this great country. The prime minister insulted the entire Greek community."

Cannis later told CTV's Mike Duffy Live that Harper had no need to mention the ethnicity of Housakos and Soudas.

"I was very angry as a proud Greek-Canadian," said Cannis. "I could not understand why the prime minister had to attach his response to any ethnicity, not matter what the ethnicity may be."

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe later told reporters that he was surprised by Harper's response, considering his party's questions had nothing to do with the men being Greek-Canadian.

"There is no link between the fact those people are from Greek origin. None at all," he said.

Opposition parties have questioned why Public Works took legal action against Rosdev to acquire a building in Ottawa. The Conservatives said a lawsuit was the only way to deal with several lingering disputes with the developer.

According to a report in the Globe and Mail, Soudas organized a meeting in PMO offices in August 2006, "asking whether it was possible to come to a mediated solution."

Conservative MP Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, said he dismissed the incident as a "classic non-story."

"Nothing happened. The government has continued with its current position in the courts against the developer," he said. "A meeting was had but no one gained anything. There is not the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Soudas spoke to reporters Wednesday and said he was only doing his job.

"There was no interference," he said.

"For those who choose to serve the public, in the spirit of transparency, looking into a file makes common sense. The file was looked into. As you may have noticed, the issue was before the courts at the time, it remains before the courts today. Basically, no favours were exchanged," he said.

Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc said officials must look into the possibility of government interference in the legal dispute.

"You have an organizer who has been appointed to the board of Via Rail -- probably because of his life-long experience in passenger rail experience," he said sarcastically. "You have political staffers from the Prime Minister's Office summon political staffers from Public Works to a meeting ... None of this is routine, none of this is normal.

"If the developer was interested in negotiating a solution, he probably doesn't go through Conservative fundraisers and PMO staff members. It's probably done through the lawyers."

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