A courtroom in Sudbury, Ont., will play host Wednesday to the rare sight of a sitting premier on the stand as Kathleen Wynne testifies in a bribery trial involving a former top adviser and a Liberal fundraiser.
Pat Sorbara, the premier’s former deputy chief of staff and Liberal campaign director, and Gerry Lougheed, a local Liberal organizer, are charged under the Election Act, accused of offering would-be candidate Andrew Olivier a job or appointment to get him to step aside for Wynne’s preferred candidate in a 2015 byelection in the northern city.
That preferred candidate was then-NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who ended up winning that byelection for the provincial Liberals and is now energy minister.
Sorbara is also facing a second charge, in relation to an allegation she arranged for paid jobs on the byelection campaign for two of Thibeault’s constituency staff, at his request. Both Sorbara and Lougheed have pleaded not guilty.
Thibeault has previously denied he sought anything that would be seen as a bribe in exchange for running and is not charged with any offences.
Wynne also faces no charges, but will be likely asked to testify about what she told Olivier and what conversations she had with Lougheed and Sorbara prior to their conversations with him.
Olivier is quadriplegic and often records important conversations as a form of note taking, and has posted the audio of his conversations with Lougheed and Sorbara.
Lougheed told Olivier that the premier and Sorbara wanted to present him with “appointments, jobs, whatever,” as he considers stepping aside. Sorbara told him he should decide if he was interested in “a full-time or part-time job at a constituency office…appointments to boards or commissions.”
Wynne called Olivier in between those two conversations, but he has testified that technical difficulties prevented him from recording that call.
The premier has previously said 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.
That trial — and a second Liberal case in Toronto on allegations of illegally deleted documents in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office related to two cancelled gas plants — have overshadowed the return of the legislature this week.
The NDP used almost all of their time in the first question period to ask about the trials. The Progressive Conservatives took a cheekier approach Tuesday, saying the Liberals weren’t going to answer their questions on the trials anyway, but still managed to slip in references in most of their unrelated questions.
“I couldn’t ask about Liberal political corruption,” PC Leader Patrick Brown said outside the House. “I couldn’t ask about the allegations on bribery. The attorney general gets up and they waste the time in the legislature by trying to avoid answering any of the questions on these very serious, serious allegations.”
The Liberals have said that the court, not the legislature, is the proper place to answer such questions.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she hopes Wynne’s testimony sheds more light on the scandal.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions and I would hope that tomorrow the premier starts coming clean for Ontarians to see exactly what role she played as the premier and as the leader of her party in what has become a very odious scandal,” Horwath said.