PC leader lands in Premier’s le­gal crosshairs

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - DAVID REEVELY twit­

On­tario Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive leader Patrick Brown won’t apologize for say­ing Premier Kath­leen Wynne is stand­ing trial for some­thing, lead­ing her lawyer to warn that the Tory leader is risk­ing se­ri­ous dam­ages in a li­bel law­suit.

It took some hard work for Brown to find the firm ground on which a party leader who has two al­lies stand­ing trial for po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion can stand and then to place her firmly on it, but here we are.

Brown got him­self into trou­ble with loose talk in a Queen’s Park press scrum Tues­day, com­plain­ing that Wynne wouldn’t an­swer ques­tions about the af­fair. Maybe, he said, “when she stands trial.” It’s as­ton­ish­ing to see a premier “sit­ting in trial,” he added, a weird turn of phrase.

Wynne, as you know, tes­ti­fied in Sud­bury on Wed­nes­day at the joint trial of her cam­paign chief, Pa­tri­cia Sor­bara, and prom­i­nent lo­cal Lib­eral Gerry Lougheed, who are accused of bribery un­der the On­tario Elec­tion Act for the roles they played in a 2015 by­elec­tion there. They got failed 2014 can­di­date An­drew Olivier out of the Lib­eral nom­i­na­tion race and got Sud­bury’s then New Demo­crat MP, Glenn Thibeault, in, us­ing what the Crown al­leges were il­le­gal of­fers to both. Thibeault se­cured the nom­i­na­tion and won the by­elec­tion and is now in Wynne’s cab­i­net as the en­ergy min­is­ter.

There is noth­ing — noth­ing — good for the Lib­er­als in this. At best, even if a judge finds noth­ing il­le­gal about any of it, it’s ev­i­dence of what a grubby busi­ness pol­i­tics is and how eas­ily the Lib­eral party dis­carded an ea­ger can­di­date when a shinier one turned up. The im­ages of Wynne’s en­ter­ing the Sud­bury court­house as a wit­ness in a cor­rup­tion trial are at odds with Wynne’s 2013-era per­sona as the bringer of fresh air and sun­light into the Lib­eral party. It’s a cor­nu­copia for the op­po­si­tion.

But Wynne is not her­self on trial. She is charged with noth­ing.

Law­break­ing is a red-flag claim in defama­tion law. If you say some­thing like that, you need to be ready with the goods. But here, there are no goods. Wynne’s lawyer fired off a let­ter de­mand­ing Brown re­tract his lines, a let­ter her press of­fice distributed pub­licly.

Won’t, Brown replied Thurs­day morn­ing.

“No one, what­ever their po­lit­i­cal view, wants to see the premier of our prov­ince de­based and hu­mil­i­ated. Re­gret­tably Kath­leen Wynne com­pounded this sorry spec­ta­cle with base­less le­gal threats against me; threats that will be ig­nored,” he said in a writ­ten state­ment. Let’s just put this be­hind us, he added.

Well, no, we’re not do­ing that, lawyer Jack Siegel volleyed back in an­other open let­ter. He’s a Toronto em­ploy­ment and po­lit­i­cal-law at­tor­ney who’s been a big wig in both the pro­vin­cial and fed­eral Lib­eral par­ties.

“This con­duct by Patrick Brown is ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing. Fair po­lit­i­cal crit­i­cism is one thing, but as a pub­lic fig­ure him­self, one might have thought that he would rec­og­nize that un­truths that de­fame an­other politi­cian are un­ac­cept­able,” Siegel wrote.

If Brown just mis­spoke, he could take it back, Siegel wrote. But if he’s stick­ing with it, why that ag­gra­vates the sit­u­a­tion. Stand by for pa­pers.

We’ve been down this road. Be­fore the 2014 elec­tion, Wynne sued Tim Hu­dak and Ottawa MPP Lisa MacLeod for $2 mil­lion for propos­ing in pub­lic that she “over­saw and pos­si­bly or­dered the crim­i­nal de­struc­tion of doc­u­ments” re­lated to the gov­ern­ment de­ci­sion to can­cel a pair of con­tro­ver­sial gas-fire power plants near Toronto. The then-leader of the Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives and his lieu­tenant ended up set­tling the suit just af­ter the elec­tion, with a joint state­ment say­ing that yes maybe things had in­deed got­ten a bit out of hand.

The two Tories didn’t have a nanogram of ev­i­dence that Wynne had had any­thing to do with the al­leged de­struc­tion of doc­u­ments, for which po­lice have charged Dal­ton McGuinty’s last chief of staff, David Liv­ingston, and Liv­ingston’s deputy, Laura Miller. McGuinty was still premier at the time and the po­lice have never claimed that he knew, let alone that Wynne did, let alone that ei­ther of them or­dered any­thing. (Liv­ingston and Miller, whose trial is also on now, have pleaded not guilty to mis­chief and breach of trust.)

The not-quite-an-apol­ogy wasn’t the point, though. The point was to em­pha­size that Wynne her­self wasn’t in any le­gal jeop­ardy be­fore the no­tion that she was be­came part of com­mon po­lit­i­cal discussion. Hu­dak and MacLeod were more care­ful af­ter they were served, so the law­suit did what it was sup­posed to do.

So has this one. Any­one talk­ing about the case pub­licly now has to be care­ful to dis­tin­guish Wynne’s role in the case from those of her po­lit­i­cal friends. Brown can’t talk about her as if she’s for­mally accused of some­thing with­out risk­ing a whole lot of trauma.

Just the way Hu­dak and MacLeod did, Brown’s taken a killer hand and over­played it.


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