BLIZZARD

Sudbury byelection just got uglier for Liberals

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

TORONTO - 

The nasty little byelection in Sudbury got 50 shades uglier Thursday when independent candidate Andrew Olivier released recorded discussions between him and senior Liberal operatives that appear to show they offered him a plum position to quietly step aside.

Olivier ran for the Liberals in the June election, losing by less than 1,000 votes to New Democrat Joe Cimino, who quit in November, citing family reasons.

In a cynical political ploy, Liberals steamrolled Olivier aside in December, appointing NDP MP Glenn Thibeault as their candidate.

In a meeting with Liberal operative Gerry Lougheed and a later phone call with Pat Sorbara, a senior staff member in Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office, there are discussions about what kind of job they might offer Olivier if he doesn’t run.

Lougheed seems fairly explicit.

“I come to you on behalf of the premier ... to ask you if you would consider stepping aside and more than that, nominating him (Thibeault),” he’s heard saying.

“In the course of that deliberation the premier wants to talk to you,” he goes on.

“They would like to present options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever, that you and her and Pat Sorbara could talk about.”

That seems pretty unequivocal.

“I’ve got to admit, I’m a little floored,” Olivier says to Lougheed.

People around Queen’s Park share his view.

“It was pretty clear there were discussions going on to try to convince the candidate not to run,” New Democrat Gilles Bisson told reporters. He said the Election Act is clear.

“You can’t offer somebody a job, you can’t offer somebody a bribe of any type in order to run or not to run for election.”

He said the tapes confirm that’s what’s happened.

Earlier this week, the Ontario Provincial Police said there was no evidence any law was broken. On Thursday, they confirmed that hasn’t changed.

Elections Ontario (EO) has opened an investigation, said Leeds Grenville MPP, Tory Steve Clark.

He’s met with officials of EO and they confirmed a probe is ongoing. Clark said he’s also followed up with a letter to OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes asking him to re-open the investigation. He said Wynne came to power saying she’d do politics differently.

“Clearly, on the tapes, there’s an indication and discussion around opportunities for the candidate.

“This just shows the government says one thing and does something completely different.”

This isn’t the first time the Liberals have played games with byelections.

In 2012, when the Liberals had a fragile minority government, long-time PC MPP Elizabeth Witmer quit her Kitchener-Waterloo seat to take an appointment at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.

In his autobiography, long-time Liberal Greg Sorbara recounts how he tried to woo former Trinity-Spadina New Democrat Rosario Marchese to step down with promises of an appointment.

On the tapes, Pat Sorbara is heard telling Olivier how Wynne is “desperate — in a good way,” to win back the Sudbury riding.

The question is why? The Liberals have a massive majority. Byelections are a time for voters to register disapproval with a government. Why risk having a star candidate shot down in flames when you don’t need to?

Olivier is the all-Canadian boy. A hockey accident on his 15th birthday left him a quadriplegic. He’s courageous and hasn’t let it stop him from following his dream.

A spokesman for Wynne said the tapes vindicate the party of any wrongdoing.

“The tape confirms what Pat Sorbara said publicly last month – that any suggestion that anything was offered in exchange for any action is false. Olivier had already been informed that he would not be the candidate,” said Lyndsay Miller. “Pat Sorbara has been vindicated of the false allegations.

“Gerry Lougheed is not government or Liberal Party staff, he speaks for himself,” she said.

Except on the tape he said he was speaking on behalf of the premier.

There are three weeks to go in this nasty little spat.

I’m betting a big nickel Sudbury’s going to send a short, sharp message to Wynne: Get out of town. 


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