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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto earlier this summer. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto earlier this summer. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press)

Ontario Liberals no strangers to questionable practices Add to ...

In her nearly four years in office, Premier Kathleen Wynne has pursued one of the most ambitious agendas in Ontario’s history: a sweeping plan to build public transit, a new cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions and the privatization of Hydro One.

But at every step of the way, her government has encountered ethical firestorms.

A looming criminal trial connected to the gas-plant scandal. Secret payments to teachers’ unions. A cash-for-access fundraising system.

Read more: Former Wynne aide Sorbara accused of bribing Thibeault to run in by-election

Read more: An inside look at cash-for-access Ontario Liberal fundraisers

With the latest flare-up – bribery charges related to last year’s Sudbury by-election – the accumulated scandals threaten to overshadow the rest of the government’s work in the long runup to the 2018 election.

Cash-for-access

The Liberals have long traded time with premiers and cabinet ministers for campaign donations, but since Ms. Wynne took power in February, 2013, the practice became more frequent.

A Globe and Mail investigation discovered that, in Ms. Wynne’s first three years in office, the party held 159 events with 50 guests or fewer in which corporate leaders and lobbyists seeking government business paid up to $10,000 apiece to bend the ears of the Premier and cabinet members over cocktails and dinner.

These were, for the most part, industry-specific events, in which companies would buy access to the minister in charge of overseeing their sector. Attendees included representatives of construction companies, private electricity firms, pharmaceutical corporations, insurance brokers and banks.

Ms. Wynne has tried to contain the fallout with a campaign finance reform bill. It would ban corporate and union donations, cut the limit on individual donations to $3,100 annually from more than $30,000, and prohibit all provincial politicians and candidates from attending fundraisers.

Teacher unions

For seven years, the government made secret payments totalling $3.8-million to several education unions as sweeteners in labour contracts. At the same time, the unions often served as important allies for the Liberals, pouring $6.5-million into three election campaigns – largely in the form of ads attacking the Progressive Conservatives – and donating $800,000 to the party.

When The Globe uncovered the payments, along with the fact that some of the money for them was diverted from a fund to help struggling students graduate, the government said the money was necessary to assist the unions with their bargaining costs after the Liberals made the system more complicated. But then-education minister Liz Sandals conceded she had not sought receipts showing how the money was spent. Not to worry, she said: The funds were likely for pizza to feed hungry negotiators and hotel rooms for them to crash in after late-night bargaining sessions, which was fine by her.

The uproar forced the government to promise never to make such payments again, and led to an audit. Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk discovered that, on top of the $3.8-million, the Liberals had also given the unions $22-million “no strings attached” as part of $80-million in payments to fund professional development programs.

Sudbury by-election

Just six months after the 2014 election, Sudbury New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino resigned abruptly, and the Liberals persuaded popular federal MP Glenn Thibeault to defect from the NDP to run for them in the resultant by-election.

There was just one hitch: Andrew Olivier, a local mortgage broker who had been the Liberal candidate in the general election, wanted to run again. Patricia Sorbara, Ms. Wynne’s deputy chief of staff and campaign director, and local Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed spoke with Mr. Olivier about making way for Mr. Thibeault. Mr. Olivier, who is quadriplegic and records conversations because it is hard to take notes, recorded Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed allegedly offering him government jobs.

Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed were charged this week with bribery under the provincial Election Act, an offence that carries a prison sentence of nearly two years or a fine of up to $25,000. Ms. Sorbara was also charged with bribing Mr. Thibeault to persuade him to become a candidate.

Gas plants

David Livingston and Laura Miller, two of former premier Dalton McGuinty’s top aides, are accused of bringing in Ms. Miller’s partner, an IT expert, to wipe the hard drives of computers in the premier’s office shortly before Mr. McGuinty stepped down. The result, police allege, is that e-mails and other documents related to the controversial cancellations of two gas-fired power plants were deleted.

Mr. Livingston and Ms. Miller face charges of breach of trust and mischief. Their trial is set to begin in September, 2017, a few months before the next election.

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