Wynne’s former staffer made alleged offer to energy minister
Sorbara charged with two bribery counts under the provincial Election Act
TORONTO — A former senior staffer for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne offered a federal MP – who is now Ontario’s energy minister – an inducement to run for the provincial Liberals, knowingly violating the Election Act, police allege.
Pat Sorbara, Wynne’s former deputy chief of staff, was charged with two bribery counts under the provincial Election Act, while Liberal operative Gerry Lougheed faces one count. Court documents show that one of Sorbara’s charges relates to Glenn Thibeault.
Thibeault was a New Democrat MP for Sudbury, Ont., before he ran for the Ontario Liberals in a byelection in that riding in February 2015. He said that the premier did not offer him a cabinet position in exchange for running, nor did Sorbara make him any offers.
“I had many conversations with Pat during that time,” he said.
“Those conversations were: ‘Are you still considering doing this? What do you need to know from us about running for our party?’ We talked a lot about policy, we talked a lot about the byelection, if that’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen and building a team, but in terms of offers being made, this was a choice that I made to do this.”
Thibeault’s lawyer said in a statement that no inducement was made or accepted so that he would run for the Ontario Liberals.
Police allege that at some point between Nov. 19, 2014 and the day after the byelection Sorbara promised to get Thibeault “an office or employment” to induce him to become a candidate. Police also allege that she did so “knowingly,” which would boost the maximum penalties from a $5,000 fine to a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to two years less a day in jail.
Sorbara recently took a leave of absence from her job as Wynne’s deputy chief of staff to become the Ontario Liberals’ CEO and 2018 campaign director, posts she resigned from on Nov. 1.
She said she believes the charges against her will not succeed and she is “shocked” by any suggestion she has done something wrong.
The other charges in the case stem from allegations Sorbara and Lougheed offered Andrew Olivier, a previous Sudbury Liberal candidate who intended to run for them again in the byelection, a job or appointment to get him to step aside for Thibeault.
Wynne has said that discussions with Olivier were about trying to keep him in the party fold, and that there was no quid pro quo because she had already decided to appoint Thibeault as the candidate before she, Sorbara and Lougheed spoke with Olivier.
The scandal has been going on since late 2014, when Olivier went public with claims that Lougheed and Sorbara offered him a job or appointment to step aside. Olivier, a quadriplegic man who often records conversations in lieu of taking notes, eventually released audio of his chats with Lougheed and Sorbara.
But this is the first time there has been an allegation of impropriety around Thibeault’s candidacy itself, said NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh.
“We’ve asked some questions: was that (alleged) inducement the opportunity to get into cabinet?” he said. “If that’s the allegation of the inducement then that’s a serious attack on the credibility of the cabinet and this premier.”
The NDP has asked Elections Ontario to examine whether Thibeault accepted anything in exchange for running, which would violate the Election Act.
The Progressive Conservatives stormed out of question period Wednesday, angry that parliamentary rules wouldn’t allow them to ask many of their questions about the bribery allegations.
Sorbara and Lougheed are to appear in court in Sudbury on Nov. 21, with a trial potentially looming around the time of the June 2018 election.
Another Liberal trial is set for next year.
David Livingston and Laura Miller, two of former premier Dalton McGuinty’s top staffers, are set to go on trial in September 2017. They were charged with breach of trust and mischief after a police investigation into the deletion of e-mails related to the Liberals’ decision to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election, at a cost of up to $1.1 billion.
Police are also looking into financial irregularities at the Ornge air ambulance service, and recently started another investigation after Trillium Power Wind Corp. complained to police about the alleged destruction of documents in a lawsuit it filed against the province.
Lougheed had also been charged criminally in the Sudbury byelection investigation, with one count of counselling an offence not committed and one count of unlawfully influencing or negotiating appointments, but those charges were stayed earlier this year.
Lougheed’s lawyer, Michael Lacy, said his client has maintained “he didn’t do anything that would attract a culpable finding.”