Retract or else, Wynne tells PC leader
TORONTO — Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has asked the leader of the Opposition to retract comments he made about her or face legal action.
The premier’s lawyers wrote a letter to Patrick Brown on Wednesday, saying the Progressive Conservative leader had told reporters that Wynne was standing trial in a Liberal bribery case. The letter said Wynne is not on trial or even under investigation, but is rather offering voluntary testimony and co-operating with the court process, therefore Brown should retract the comments and apologize.
Wynne’s office made the letter public moments before the premier took the witness stand in a trial in Sudbury, for two former Liberal staffers who are facing bribery charges under the Election Act.
“She has gone so far as to waive her parliamentary privilege and will voluntarily appear as a witness at the trial, ” wrote the premier’s lawyer, Jack Siegel.
“There is a world of difference between this high level of co-operation and your defamatory reference to ‘when she stands trial’; she is not on trial, and will continue to take all necessary measures to defend her reputation.”
Brown made the comments on Tuesday when reporters asked him to comment about the Sudbury trial. He said the government was using “legislative tricks” during debate at Queen’s Park to avoid answering questions about the court proceedings.
“I hope that the premier will give us answers, maybe when she stands trial,” he said. “That in itself is astonishing, that we’ve got a sitting premier, sitting in trial answering questions about these allegations of bribery, that in itself is astonishing of (how) far this government has fallen.”
All that was needed now, said Wynne, was for Thibeault to say yes to the move. That development, she said, would mean Olivier and Matichuk would be asked to withdraw because Thibeault, who was well known in Sudbury, would have an excellent chance of winning the byelection.
When Thibeault confirmed Dec. 11 he would make the move, Wynne asked Lougheed, who knew Olivier, to talk to him and convince him to withdraw from seeking the nomination. When the two men talked that day, Wynne said Lougheed left with the impression Olivier was still thinking of pursing the nomination.
“He wasn’t the candidate and we wanted to keep him as a member of the Liberal family,” she said. “This was a difficult moment for him because at that moment, we decided Glenn Thibeault would be the Liberal candidate.”
When she called Olivier later that day, Wynne said she made it clear to Olivier he would not be the candidate.
“The conversation was about keeping him involved,” she said. “This was a difficult moment for him. He was thinking about being the Liberal candidate again. The reality is, and I didn’t say that to him, he hadn’t been a great candidate in the general election. We were looking for a candidate we had confidence in and would win the riding.”
Wynne said she did not have to call Olivier, but did so out of compassion.
“I thought it was the decent thing to do, to reach out to him and hear from me I was prepared to appoint Glenn Thibeault,” she said. “I would have appreciated the same treatment.”
Wynne said she also brought up that there were possibilities for Olivier to pursue within the party, such as being on commissions, but that he would have to follow a process.
“I told him there were many ways to be involved,” she said. “He would have to make a decision as to which process ... It could be a different process depending on what he was interested in. These are not things that could happen immediately.”
The trial heard the party operates four commissions: Women’s, Young Liberals, Indigenous and Senior Members. The commissions help develop party policy.
“I felt it was a good thing for him to be involved (in the party) locally,” she said. “He brought experience and a good perspective to the Liberal family and my hope was that he would stay.”
Wynne said the riding association was purposely kept in the dark to allow Thibeault time to make a decision. She said that when Olivier held a press conference on Dec. 15 announcing he was withdrawing from seeking the nomination, the party had to move quickly and announce Thibeault’s candidacy. That happened the next day.
Asked about Olivier’s decision to announce on Facebook in late November he would be seeking the nomination in the by election, Wynne agreed that the move was “premature” since a nomination process had yet to be developed.
Wynne also noted that during the June 2014 election campaign, Olivier made a statement about the Catholic School system in the province that was contrary to official party policy.
“It was very surprising and concerning,” she said.
After Wynne was finished testifying and the trial broke for lunch, Wynne briefly addressed reporters outside the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines building, telling them, “I said everything I had to say.”
As she spoke, several protesters spoke over her comments saying things like “liar, liar, pants on fire” and “shame on you.”
As Wynne headed to her car, one protester yelled “an election is coming up, not soon enough.”
Moments earlier, Timmins-James Bay New Democrat MPP Gilles Bisson, who has been attending the trial, told reporters that in some areas, Wynne had an excellent memory, but a bad one in others. He also said the trial has shown that the local Liberals were not “one big, happy family.”
Bisson said he is glad a trial is being conducted.
“The legislation is clear: you make someone a bribe or officer a job or anything to dissuade someone from seeking a candidacy,” he said.
Bisson also said it’s wrong that a political party leader has the power to appoint someone to run in a riding. He said the New Democrats, both in Ontario and nationally, do not allow for appointment of candidates, as it is best that local riding members select whom they want.
“In our system, there is a nomination process,” he said. “At times, it’s sticky. But it’s done. This should be all about the voters back home ... At the end of the day, it’s the general public who decides.”
The Crown–the Public Prosecution Service of Canada — expects to call 17 witnesses. Those still scheduled to testify include former Sudbury Liberal MPP Rick Bartolucci, current Sudbury Liberal MPP and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault, and Matichuk.
The trial continues Thursday.
In this artist's sketch, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (left) is questioned by Crown Prosecutor Vern Brewer (centre) at the trial of two Liberals who are charged with bribery under the Election Act, in Sudbury on Wednesday. Justice Howard Borenstein (top right), lawyer Brian Greenspan, Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara look on.