Wynne de­nies of­fer­ing cabi­net job

On­tario premier a wit­ness in trial of two Lib­er­als who are charged with bribery

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - ONTARIO NEWS - AL­LI­SON JONES

SUD­BURY, Ont. — On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne de­nied in court Wed­nes­day that she promised a New Demo­crat MP a cabi­net po­si­tion to get him to leave his party and run for the provin­cial Lib­er­als.

The premier is a wit­ness in the trial of two Lib­er­als who are charged with bribery un­der the Elec­tion Act over al­le­ga­tions they of­fered a would-be can­di­date a job or ap­point­ment to get him to step aside for NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who was Wynne’s pre­ferred can­di­date in a 2015 by­elec­tion.

Wynne her­self is not fac­ing charges and her lawyers sent Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive Leader Pa­trick Brown a let­ter Wed­nes­day de­mand­ing he re­tract com­ments they say sug­gest the premier is stand­ing trial.

Court heard that a man who let the premier’s staff know that Thibeault might be in­ter­ested in switch­ing par­ties re­layed to them con­cerns he said Thibeault had “be­fore jump­ing.”

“Premier said he could only get in cabi­net af­ter a process and at next shuf­fle at a date TBD,” the man texted Pat Sor­bara, the premier’s deputy chief of staff at the time and one of the two Lib­er­als on trial.

Sor­bara and other top staff in the premier’s of­fice wrote in a sub­se­quent e-mail chain that “de­mands for a cabi­net po­si­tion” were wor­ry­ing.

Wynne tes­ti­fied that the text doesn’t re­flect her con­ver­sa­tions with Thibeault.

She prefers giv­ing cau­cus mem­bers time to learn the sys­tem rather than im­me­di­ately putting them in cabi­net, she tes­ti­fied.

“I made it clear to Glenn that that was my be­lief and that was my prac­tice,” Wynne said, adding she first broached the cabi­net is­sue and not Thibeault.

“I ac­tu­ally put that for­ward be­cause I wanted it to be very clear and I didn’t want there to be any misun­der­stand­ing about where I was com­ing from.”

Thibeault, who was pro­moted to en­ergy min­is­ter in June 2016, has pre­vi­ously de­nied he sought any­thing that would be seen as a bribe in ex­change for run­ning and is not charged with any of­fences.

Sor­bara, who was also Lib­eral cam­paign direc­tor, and Gerry Lougheed, a lo­cal Lib­eral or­ga­nizer, have both pleaded not guilty.

They’re ac­cused of of­fer­ing would-be can­di­date An­drew Olivier a job or ap­point­ment to get him to step aside for Thibeault.

Wynne tes­ti­fied that when she, Lougheed and Sor­bara each spoke to Olivier, she had de­cided Thibeault would be the can­di­date. She had hoped Olivier would step aside so Thibeault could win an un­con­tested nom­i­na­tion, in or­der to present a uni­fied party, she said.

The fi­nal de­ci­sion and an­nounce­ment of Thibeault’s ap­point­ment came a few days af­ter those con­ver­sa­tions, court heard, but Wynne said her mind was al­ready made up.

“It was very clear to (Olivier) I was pre­pared to go ahead and ap­point, and that was the track that we were on,” she said.

Olivier tes­ti­fied last week he still thought at that point he could change the premier’s mind and run in an open nom­i­na­tion con­test. Olivier had been the Lib­eral can­di­date in Sud­bury in the 2014 gen­eral elec­tion, but lost to the NDP

Wynne tes­ti­fied that she thought the Lib­er­als should have held onto the rid­ing, since they had held it for nearly two decades at that point. That led her to be­lieve that Olivier was not as strong a can­di­date as she had thought and wouldn’t be the best can­di­date for a by­elec­tion, Wynne said.

The seat be­came avail­able when the New Demo­crat mem­ber re­signed five months af­ter the gen­eral elec­tion. When the premier heard that Thibeault was in­ter­ested in run­ning for the provin­cial Lib­er­als she thought it was “an in­trigu­ing idea,” she said.

Once Thibeault com­mit­ted to run­ning for the Lib­er­als, Wynne said she left the next steps up to Sor­bara.

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.

Wynne said she was aware Thibeault was con­cerned about what would hap­pen with his staff.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario Premier Kath­leen Wynne, left, ac­com­pa­nied by her part­ner, Jane Roun­th­waite, ar­rives to ap­pear as a wit­ness in the Elec­tion Act bribery trial in Sud­bury, Ont., on Wed­nes­day.

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