Ontario Provincial Police are consulting with prosecutors on whether to lay criminal corruption charges against two Liberal operatives accused of bribery related to the Sudbury by-election.
But in an unusual move, OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes is complaining publicly that the process is stalled.
Patricia Sorbara, deputy chief of staff to Premier Kathleen Wynne, and Gerry Lougheed, chair of the Sudbury police board and a Liberal fundraiser, are accused of offering government jobs to former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier in exchange for him dropping out of the Feb. 5 by-election race. The police investigation, which has been going on since last December, has focused on recordings of Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed discussing the jobs with Mr. Olivier.
Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed have said they did nothing wrong.
Morris Pistyner, chief federal prosecutor for Ontario, said the case is currently at an "advisory stage," with the OPP consulting lawyers in his office. Once police have gathered evidence in a case, they typically discuss it with prosecutors before laying charges, to make sure the Crown believes the case is strong enough to hold up in court.
"The seeking of advice, as you can well appreciate, is subject to solicitor-client privilege," Mr. Pistyner said. "So I really can't comment on where that's at, except to say that there is an advisory stage that we're in right now."
Commissioner Hawkes told the Toronto Star on Thursday that the case is not moving forward, and that the delays are not the fault of his officers.
"Because of a pile of stuff that is going on there, I am obviously frustrated with the progress," the Star quoted him as saying.
Commissioner Hawkes did not respond to The Globe and Mail's requests for an interview.
Mr. Pistyner said it is ultimately up to the police to decide whether to lay charges. "The decision as to whether or not to lay charges is always that of the investigative agency," he said.
Asked if there was a rift between the OPP and prosecutors that was holding up a decision on charges, Mr. Pistyner said: "Even if there was, I don't think I could comment on that."
Ms. Wynne, who was interviewed by OPP investigators in late April as part of the probe, told reporters Thursday she has not heard from them in a long time.
"I haven't heard from the police for months, so I don't know exactly what is happening in terms of the process," she said. "Would we like resolution? Absolutely."
Progressive Conservative deputy leader Steve Clark said he wrote to Commissioner Hawkes three weeks ago asking for an update and never heard back. He said he was surprised to see the officer instead vent his frustrations to the Star.
"You have to question why the investigation from the OPP has taken this long," Mr. Clark said after Question Period.
Court documents obtained by The Globe and Mail last winter indicate police believe Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed may have broken anti-corruption provisions in the Criminal Code, which prohibits "negotiating appointments" – offering government jobs in exchange for a bribe or political favour. Those documents, however, indicated there was considerable debate within the OPP over whether the job discussions between Ms. Sorbara, Mr. Lougheed and Mr. Olivier met the threshold of criminality.
Chief electoral officer Greg Essensa completed a separate investigation into the matter in two months. Last February, he found there was reason to believe that Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed violated the provincial Elections Act, which prohibits offering people jobs in exchange for not running in an election. The OPP must also decide whether to lay charges stemming from the provincial act.
Mr. Olivier ended up running in the by-election as an independent and placed third. Glenn Thibeault, who represented the Liberals, won the race.