Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – For at least the second time in recent months, Stephen Harper is being called on to deal with the conduct of Eve Adams, an Ontario MP who was once considered a showcase member of the Conservative government.
Harper has asked the party’s governing body to investigate allegations against Adams lodged by rank-and-file members in a suburban Toronto riding, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Tuesday.
Adams is in the midst of a heated nomination battle in Oakville North-Burlington, where she is being accused of using her position as an member of Parliament to unfair advantage.
And it turns out it’s not the first time Harper’s office has been confronted with a complaint from the party’s grassroots about Adams’ behaviour.
In January, a Conservative supporter in Ottawa contacted the PMO to complain about the way she conducted herself at his place of business during an incident on a cold morning late last year.
Gas station owner John Newcombe said Adams, who was upset over a $6 car wash she deemed unsatisfactory, used her car to partially block access to the refuelling area at his west-end Esso station for 15 minutes last December.
“I was absolutely outraged,” Newcombe told The Canadian Press in an interview.
“I couldn’t believe it. I had never experienced anything like this in 40 years of business.”
Security camera footage from that day shows her vehicle parked directly in front of a pump lane, with traffic backing up behind it on a busy Ottawa street. Newcombe said he asked her repeatedly to move the car, but to no avail.
“Instead, she became threatening and confrontational, making remarks that included: “‘I’m timing how long it takes before I get my refund,'” Newcombe said in his letter to Harper.
Adams apologized to Newcombe in late January after he spoke to someone in the Prime Minister’s Office. But Newcombe said he was unsatisfied with her response.
For her part, Adams says she moved her car twice at the behest of gas station attendants before parking where she did.
“The entire time I simply said, look, if I could simply go through the wash a second time, or if not, could they kindly refund the unused car washes I had just bought moments ago,” Adams said.
“In any event, I regret what happened and I apologized to Mr. Newcombe many months ago.”
Newcombe categorically refutes her version of events.
The dispute bears a resemblance to a more recent incident described by Mark Fedak, the president of the riding association for Oakville North-Burlington, in his own letter to Harper sent late Tuesday.
Adams, who currently represents the non-adjacent riding of Mississauga-Brampton South, has declared her desire to instead seek the Conservative nomination in Fedak’s newly established riding.
In the letter, Fedak says Adams showed up at a March 19 board meeting and refused to leave, even though she was asked to leave a total of nine times.
The fact most of the board’s members are supporting local chiropractor Natalia Lishchyna’s bid for the nomination, rather than Adams, added to the tension.
“Her continuous response was to continue to filibuster the meeting, without ever being recognized with a right to speak, but rather she continued to hijack the meeting,” Fedak writes in a letter, which is co-signed by 14 board members.
“During the first 20 minutes of her appearance she went from arguing her right to be there due to her MP and member status but then started to verbally abuse at least four members of the board directly.”
Adams has said that accounts of the meeting have been exaggerated by board members who support Lishchyna’s nomination bid.
The board also alleges that Adams has been using internal party membership data as well as her House of Commons mailing privileges to contact Conservatives in the riding, which she does not represent.
Adams and her campaign manager insist she has followed all the rules, and has verified with Elections Canada that the mailings were allowed.
Harper’s office took the unusual step of stating publicly Tuesday that Harper has asked the party’s governing body, the national council, to look into the allegations.
On Sunday, Adams’ fiance Dimitri Soudas was forced to resign his position over similar allegations that he had been using his position to tilt the playing field in her favour.
It’s the latest shot across the bow from Harper and the party, who are eager to demonstrate they are committed to holding open and fair nominations without favouritism shown to incumbent MPs.
The chill around Adams is a stark contrast to her early days in the Commons. Shortly after she was elected in 2011 and named parliamentary secretary to the minister of defence, she helped to host Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge during their highly publicized visit to Ottawa. She also appeared frequently at military events and as a spokesperson on TV political panels.
Adams inspires mixed feelings among her colleagues, particularly those in southern Ontario who were puzzled by her decision to seek the nomination in a completely different riding.
“She’s one of my colleagues — currently,” said MP Larry Miller.
“All I can say is, I don’t care who the colleague is in our caucus; if somebody abuses the rules then they should suffer the consequences. But until we know that for sure, we should just leave it at that.”
In 2010, Harper ousted junior cabinet minister Helena Guergis, citing as justification unproven allegations she had been involved in criminal activity. Those allegations were never proven.
Prior to that controversy, Guergis made headlines when she got into a heated verbal confrontation with staff at the Charlottetown airport.