NEWS
08/31/2011 05:34 EDT | Updated 10/31/2011 05:12 EDT

Angelo Persichilli Appointment As Harper Communications Director Brings Understanding Of 'Ethnic' Media

OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed columnist Angelo Persichilli as his new director of communications.

Persichilli will start work next week setting the communications strategy for the whole of government.

A former Toronto Star and Hill Times columnist, Persichilli was also the editor of the Italian-language publication Corriere Canadese and is said to be deeply in-tune with ethnic media whom the Conservative government has aggressively courted.

"He understands ethnic media," said one senior Conservative staffer immensely pleased with the appointment.

Persichilli doesn't speak French but will be aided by the bilingual Andrew MacDougall, Harper's former press secretary and the strongest internal candidate, who now takes the job of chief spokesman and associate director of communications.

MacDougall appeared pleased by the choice of his new boss but wouldn't comment on changes in the office.

"We don't comment on staffing," he told Huffington Post Canada.

Harper's chief-of-staff Nigel Wright spent a good part of the summer trying to find a replacement for Dimitri Soudas, the outgoing director of communications.

In a letter, obtained by The Huffington Post Canada, Wright welcomed the fresh face at the Prime Minister's Office, while praising Soudas for his "dedication, judgment, intensity".

Wright had made it clear that he was looking externally but two preferred candidates, Jason Lietaer, the man who ran the communications shop for the Conservatives during the last election and Dan Robertson, a former senior communications advisor in the Prime Minister's Office, both declined the job when offered for family reasons.

Both men have moved on from government and are now working as communication strategists in Toronto.

Soudas said good bye to the media Tuesday during a briefing on Harper's upcoming trip to Europe to discuss the situation in Libya.

The 32-year-old old who's been at Harper's side for nine years, took the time to read a letter he had penned to the press gallery with whom he has often had tense relationships.

He joked about waking up before dawn, his BlackBerry buzzing from a reporter's call and falling asleep in the wee hours of the morning after bombarding journalists with complaints about their stories.

"I do, after all, have the responsibility to correct each and every media story that has been filed on the web, television, wire, print, even on Twitter because they contain errors that I simply had to politely, calmly and charmingly correct in order to ensure that they didn't lose any of the credibility they had with their readers," he said.

Known for his fierce loyalty to Harper, Soudas told The Huffington Post Canada he served faithfully because he looked up to his boss.

"For those who do not have a role model in life, and I did not. For those who don't, he is the perfect one," he said. "It's very easy to be loyal to him."

MacDougall told The Huffington Post Canada that Soudas will be remembered for asking staff to be "really active and engaged with the press" -- a reversal of direction from previous leadership -- as well as his intense focuse on multicultural and third-language media.

"That's really something that he has spearheaded," MacDougall said Tuesday.

Soudas' last day is September 5.