Lawyers representing two Ontario Liberal organizers facing bribery charges are asking a judge in Sudbury to toss out the case, saying their clients committed no crimes under the province's Election Act.
Three weeks into a trial in which Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was called to make an unusual appearance as a witness and which submitted the inner workings of the Liberal Party to hours of examination in court, the defence lawyers wrote in an argument filed Friday that the prosecution has failed to make the case that the Election Act applies to an internal party nomination process. They want the case dropped before they call any witnesses.
Patricia Sorbara, Ms. Wynne's former campaign director, and Gerry Lougheed Jr., a power broker for the Liberals in Sudbury, are accused of bribery during a 2015 provincial by-election in the city. The court has heard that they allegedly offered would-be candidate Andrew Olivier an appointment or job within the party if he agreed to drop out of the local nomination race and open the way for star candidate Glenn Thibeault. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The case has revolved around a number of recordings of conversations between Mr. Olivier and the two organizers. Mr. Olivier is quadriplegic and told the court that he records important conversations because of his difficulty taking notes.
In the conversations, Mr. Lougheed is heard telling Mr. Olivier that the Premier wanted to present him with appointments or jobs if he would consider stepping aside. Ms. Sorbara told him he could express interest in a position within the party, including one of the party's internal commissions. Mr. Olivier has told the court that he was never offered compensation.
Lawyers Michael Lacy and Brian Greenspan wrote in their submission that there was never going to be a Liberal nomination race in Sudbury because Ms. Wynne had chosen to appoint Mr. Thibeault, a federal MP, as the Liberal candidate. The conversations between the organizers and Mr. Olivier were simply an attempt to "soften the blow."
The organizers contacted Mr. Olivier in an attempt to get him to openly support Mr. Thibeault, who is now Ontario's Energy Minister, and indicated to him that he still had value to the party, the court heard. "Mr. Olivier was being asked to participate in an acclamation process as a regular part of party politics. It was a 'significant nod' and sign of respect to Mr. Olivier, and it would allow the [Liberal Party] to appear, to the outside world, to be unified going into the Sudbury by-election. It was not a violation of the Election Act," the lawyers wrote in their submission.
Someone can't be a candidate for the purposes of the Election Act until an election has been called, they wrote. The Sudbury by-election was called about a month after the taped conversations.
During the general election in 2014, Mr. Olivier had run as the Liberal candidate and lost. The Sudbury riding had been Liberal for 19 years and, in her testimony, Ms. Wynne said she was told Mr. Olivier had run a poorly organized campaign.
Ms. Sorbara faces a second count alleging she bribed Mr. Thibeault to run by promising paid jobs on the campaign for two of his constituency staff. "To put it bluntly, the idea that Ms. Sorbara induced Mr. Thibeault to leave his role as a federal MP by promising modest one-time stipends for two staffers, totalling less than $5,000, is fanciful," the lawyers wrote.
The prosecution has until Oct. 6 to file its written argument in response. Both sides will make their case to a judge on Oct. 10.