MONTREAL - A federal employee described by Liberal Irwin Cotler as his "shadow MP" on the public payroll says he no longer works for the government, bringing to a close a political appointment mired in mystery.
Saulie Zajdel told The Canadian Press in a brief phone conversation Tuesday that he left his government position — but he wouldn't say why.
"I'm no longer working for the federal government," Zajdel said in a 30-second discussion before hanging up.
"I'm a private citizen now."
The former Conservative candidate was hired by the Tory government after he lost to Cotler in last year's election.
Cotler had raised concerns that his ex-rival was earning a government paycheque while trying to perform MP-like duties in his Montreal riding. The Liberal MP said he was worried that Zajdel was meeting with elected officials in the riding, promising that he would help them secure federal services and grants.
Details of Zajdel's role were closely guarded.
The Conservatives initially refused to discuss his duties as an adviser to Heritage Minister James Moore. After several months, Moore shared some details, explaining that Zajdel worked in his Montreal office as a non-partisan liaison with the city's multiethnic communities.
Zajdel, meanwhile, had stayed active in Cotler's Mount Royal riding since starting his government job last fall.
Shortly after being hired, he convened a meeting with mayors in the riding to discuss Canadian Heritage programs.
A few weeks ago, the former Montreal city councillor spoke about the programs again during a lecture at a community centre for Jewish seniors in Mount Royal, which has a large Jewish population.
His one-hour talk was advertised in local newspapers and on the centre's website as "How the Federal Government Relates to Israel." It was attended by around 25 people.
Zajdel began his talk by discussing his department's heritage-related services, unrelated to Israel, according to two people in the room. Then he told the seniors' audience he was going off the record, so they could have a private chat about Canada's relationship with Israel.
Last month, Zajdel was part of Stephen Harper's entourage during the prime minister's visit to Montreal.
Zajdel declined repeated requests for an interview while he was employed by the government. He did engage in the brief exchange Tuesday, but refused to say what he's going to do next.
"Have a nice a day, sir. Bye, bye," he said before hanging up the phone.
One possible avenue for Zajdel is real estate. He is listed as a "real estate broker" on the website of an agency in the Mount Royal riding and has held a permit to sell real estate since 2003.
When asked about Zajdel's departure, a spokesman for Moore said Tuesday in an email that the department does not comment on "internal staffing issues."
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