Liberal trial hears details of allegations

Sudbury Byelection Bribery Trial
Pat Sorbara arrives for a Election Act bribery trial in Sudbury, Ontario, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. Sorbara, who was at the time the Ontario Liberal Party CEO, faces two charges and Gerry Lougheed, a local Liberal fundraiser, faces one charge. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

SUDBURY, Ont. – The bribery trial of two Ontario Liberals has heard that former NDP MP Glenn Thibeault asked for paid jobs for two of his constituency office staffers in exchange for running in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury, Ont.

Pat Sorbara, who was at the time the Ontario Liberal Party CEO, and Gerry Lougheed, a local Liberal fundraiser, are both accused — under the Election Act — of offering would-be candidate Andrew Olivier a job or appointment to get him to step aside for Thibeault, who was Premier Kathleen Wynne’s preferred candidate.

Federal Crown prosecutor David McKercher in his opening statement today said in order for Thibeault to take the risk of leaving his position as a federal MP, he wanted income replacement for himself, full support of the Ontario Liberals and paid positions on the byelection campaign for two of his constituency office staff.

Sorbara is also facing a second charge, in relation to an alleged offer made to Thibeault to get him to become the candidate.

Thibeault has previously denied he sought anything that would be seen as a bribe in exchange for running and both Sorbara and Lougheed pleaded not guilty today.

Their lawyers say the Crown’s allegations wrongly use the term “candidate” interchangeably with “party nominee” and only candidacy processes are governed by the Election Act.

“The process that took place and whatever may have occurred during those conversations…is not in relation to a candidate in the byelection but rather exclusively in relation to the Liberal nominee in that byelection,” said Sorbara’s lawyer, Brian Greenspan.

“(Thibeault) was going to be appointed, as was her (Wynne’s) right under the Liberal constitution,” said Lougheed’s lawyer, Michael Lacy. “There was never going to be a contested nomination process in this riding for that byelection. Mr. Olivier’s wishful thinking in that regard does not transform him into a candidate for the purpose of the Ontario Election Act.”

The Liberals had held the Sudbury riding for nearly two decades before losing it in the 2014 general election to the NDP, and when the New Democrat MPP stepped down months later for health reasons, Premier Kathleen Wynne was determined to win it back in a byelection, McKercher said.

She didn’t think Andrew Olivier, the party’s candidate in the riding in 2014, was the best chance for winning, instead preferring Thibeault, he said.

Wynne ultimately appointed Thibeault as the candidate, he won the byelection and has since been promoted to energy minister.

The premier herself is set to testify on Wednesday.

She has said that she had already decided Olivier would not be the byelection candidate by the time Sorbara and Lougheed spoke to him, therefore anything offered was not in exchange for stepping aside. Rather, Wynne says, she was trying to keep him in the party fold.

An Election Act bribery conviction carries a penalty of up to $5,000. If a judge finds it was broken “knowingly,” the penalty is a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to two years less a day in jail.