A former top aide to Premier Kathleen Wynne is accused of bribing Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault to get him to run for the provincial Liberals in a by-election last year.
Patricia Sorbara, who resigned from her posts on Tuesday, is alleged to have offered a bribe to Mr. Thibeault, who was an MP for the federal New Democratic Party at the time, to quit his job and his party and carry the Liberal banner in Sudbury for the vote in February, 2015.
The allegation expands the corruption scandal surrounding the Liberals’ conduct in the by-election and threatens to drag an up-and-coming cabinet minister into the quagmire.
The revelation is in an information sheet sworn by Ontario Provincial Police connected to provincial Election Act charges against Ms. Sorbara, a former deputy chief of staff to Ms. Wynne, and Gerry Lougheed, a Sudbury funeral home owner and Liberal fundraiser.
Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed were charged on Monday with attempting to bribe Andrew Olivier, a Sudbury mortgage broker, with offers of a government job in exchange for dropping his candidacy for the Liberal nomination in Sudbury. The pair wanted Mr. Thibeault to receive the nomination unopposed.
On Tuesday, Ms. Sorbara stepped down as CEO of the Ontario Liberal Party and campaign director. The Liberals are standing by Ms. Sorbara, the chief organizer behind their majority victory in 2014, and the party is paying her legal bills and offering severance.
Ms. Sorbara faces two counts of bribery under the Election Act, while Mr. Lougheed faces one. The provincial charges carry a maximum penalty of nearly two years in prison or a $25,000 fine. Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Luogheed have denied they did anything wrong and vowed to fight the charges.
The information sheet, obtained by CTV and published online, reveals that Ms. Sorbara’s second charge relates to the previously unknown allegation of offering a bribe to Mr. Thibeault. It says Ms. Sorbara did “directly or indirectly give, procure or promise or agree to procure an office of employment to induce a person, to wit, Glenn Thibeault, to become a candidate.” The document does not say what office Ms. Sorbara is accused of offering Mr. Thibeault.
In a scrum with reporters after the daily Question Period at Queen’s Park, Mr. Thibeault denied Ms. Sorbara had offered him anything.
Asked if Ms. Sorbara promised him a cabinet post, Mr. Thibeault said: “Absolutely not.” Asked if anyone had ever offered him a bribe, or if he had ever taken one, he said: “No.”
“I did not ask for cabinet … the Premier and I had a conversation about roles within government,” he said. “There was never any implied cabinet offer, there was nothing like that.”
He said he first broached the possibility of running with Mr. Lougheed in November, 2014. Subsequently, Mr. Thibeault said, he spoke with Ms. Sorbara.
“I had many conversations with Pat during that time. Those conversations were: ‘Are you still considering doing this? What do you need to know from us about running for our party?’” he said. “We talked a lot about policy, we talked a lot about the by-election, if that’s going to happen, when it was going to happen, and building a team.”
Mr. Thibeault said he agreed to run for the Liberals on the understanding he would automatically receive the nomination without a contest.
“Part of the conversations that we were having was that I was the nominee,” he said. “I was told that I was going to be the candidate.”
Mr. Thibeault won the by-election. He spent 16 months on the backbench at Queen’s Park, then was elevated to cabinet in June.
Mr. Thibeault said the OPP interviewed him once in early 2015, and again this June. The most recent meeting, he said, was in Toronto and lasted half an hour.
Mr. Thibeault’s lawyer also denied the accusations in a statement on Wednesday. “I understand that Ms. Sorbara is alleged to have corruptly induced my client to leave his position as a Federal Member of Parliament so that he could run for the provincial Liberals. I want to be clear – Mr. Thibeault has advised the investigators in this matter, with whom he has co-operated fully, that no such inducement was made or accepted,” Ian R. Smith wrote.
The opposition hammered the government on the revelations for nearly the entire hour of Question Period.
“Will the Premier tell us right now what were the 30 pieces of silver that she and Pat Sorbara offered to Mr. Thibeault?” NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh asked.
Mr. Singh has asked Elections Ontario to investigate Mr. Thibeault to determine whether he accepted a bribe from Ms. Sorbara.
Added PC Leader Patrick Brown: “This is shocking. My question for the Premier is, did the Premier’s deputy chief of staff offer the current Minister of Energy an office in order to induce him to become a candidate?”
Mr. Olivier recorded his conversations with Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed and went public with them.
In a telephone conversation in December, 2014, Ms. Sorbara asked Mr. Olivier to quit the by-election race, and then told him about possible job opportunities: “Whether it’s a full-time or a part-time job at a constituency office, whether it is appointments to boards or commissions, whether it is also going on the executive.” She said Ms. Wynne wanted to ensure Mr. Olivier had “a role.”
In a meeting, Mr. Lougheed told Mr. Olivier he could receive a “reward” for quitting the race: “The Premier wants to talk to you. We would like to present to you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever.”Report Typo/Error