Ontario Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault solicited a job guarantee in exchange for running for the Liberals in last year's Sudbury by-election, a federal prosecutor says.
The revelation came after a court hearing Monday for two Liberal operatives accused of offering bribes in connection with the by-election.
Speaking with reporters outside court in Sudbury, Crown attorney Vern Brewer said Mr. Thibeault asked for "certain benefits" to quit his job as a federal MP, defect from the NDP and run provincially for Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberals. Mr. Brewer said Mr. Thibeault was not charged because the province's Election Act makes it illegal to offer a bribe but not to accept one.
"Mr. Thibeault sought certain benefits, offers or job or employment as part of his conditions to run as MPP," Mr. Brewer said. "The section makes it an offence to offer, not necessarily to receive."
Through his lawyer, Mr. Thibeault flatly denied the accusation and said it was "unfair" for the Crown to make such an allegation outside the legal process.
"Those comments are false. Mr. Thibeault neither sought nor was offered a bribe," said Ian Smith, Mr. Thibeault's counsel, in a statement. "The unfairness of the situation is obvious and supremely frustrating. These comments are disgraceful and ill-considered, yet will probably cause Mr. Thibeault serious reputational damage in respect of which he will consider all of his legal options."
Mr. Brewer's accusation adds further fuel to an ethical firestorm that has already scorched the governing Liberals to their core.
In a statement, NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson demanded that Ms. Wynne ask Mr. Thibeault to quit.
"Ontarians expect better judgment from cabinet ministers and from the Premier of this province," he said. "For the sake of public confidence in the electoral process, Mr. Thibeault must step aside from his cabinet position immediately."
Patricia Sorbara, Ms. Wynne's former deputy chief of staff, and Sudbury businessman and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed are charged with bribery under the Election Act for allegedly offering former candidate Andrew Olivier a government job in exchange for quitting the race for the Liberal nomination in the by-election. The pair wanted Mr. Thibeault to take the nomination unopposed.
Ms. Sorbara is also accused of bribing Mr. Thibeault to get him to run for the Liberals, though police have not specified what, exactly, she is alleged to have offered him.
Mr. Thibeault won the Feb. 5, 2015 by-election and spent 16 months on the backbench before he was promoted to cabinet as Energy Minister in June. He also received a $3,500 payment from the Liberal Party for running in the by-election. The payment is listed in the party's financial disclosure for the vote as "income replacement." (The NDP provided a $1,000 payment for its candidate.)
Both Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed have maintained their innocence and have indicated they will fight the charges.
Ms. Sorbara, the chief organizer for the Liberals' 2014 election campaign and a trusted adviser to the Premier, resigned this month after the charges were laid.
The relevant section of the Election Act, a provincial piece of legislation separate from the Criminal Code, makes it an offence to offer someone "an office or employment" in exchange for them becoming a candidate or dropping their candidacy. If convicted, Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed could face as much as two years less a day in prison or $25,000 in fines.
The court case was put over until Dec. 14. The Crown and defence made a joint application to have the case heard by a judge rather than a justice of the peace, which is standard for provincial cases.
"It's the first prosecution we're aware of under this section, and there are significant and complex legal issues," Mr. Brewer said.
Mr. Brewer, of the federal public prosecution service, was brought in to handle the case to keep it at arm's length from the provincial Ministry of the Attorney-General.
Ms. Wynne seemed to reference her government's ethical travails in a mea culpa to the Liberals' annual general meeting in Ottawa on Saturday, though she did not mention the Sudbury scandal nor the controversy over her party's cash-for-access fundraising techniques by name.
"People look at me and many of them think: 'She's not who we thought she was. She's become a typical politician. She'll do anything to win,' " she told 800 Liberals in her keynote speech. "Frankly, I think I sometimes have given them reason to think that."
With a report from the Canadian Press