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Patricia Sorbara (right) is pictured with Ontario Green Party leader Michael Schreiner.

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Until she found herself at the centre of an alleged bribery scandal, Patricia Sorbara was far from a household name, little known outside political circles.

But she has been near the centre of power in Toronto and Ottawa for the better part of three decades. Liberals alternately laud the publicity-averse aide for her organizational prowess or quietly admit to being intimidated by her hard-driving toughness.

She is one of the most powerful unelected figures in Kathleen Wynne's government. As deputy chief of staff, Ms. Sorbara handles the operations of the Premier's office. As campaign director, she runs the electoral machine that delivered the Liberals their fourth consecutive term of office last year.

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The Premier's loyalty to her in the face of the scandal – in which Ms. Sorbara and another Liberal operative, Gerry Lougheed, are accused of offering former candidate Andrew Olivier a government job in exchange for quitting the Sudbury by-election race – demonstrates just how much stock the party puts in her.

Ms. Sorbara got her start in politics working for then-premier David Peterson in the 1980s. She has been running campaigns at least since that time: A 1986 Globe story identified her as the manager of the Liberals' successful effort in a York East by-election.

In her conversation with Mr. Olivier, Ms. Sorbara confided that she had once harboured ambitions of elected office but gave up after losing a nomination battle in Guelph 30 years ago. Then aged 27, she believed she was a lock for the nomination until Rick Ferraro, a local city councillor, unexpectedly entered the race.

"That was it. I was done. People in his family who were supporting me went and helped him out and I lost," she told Mr. Olivier, who recorded the conversation. "I never tried again. I went to the backroom and that was that."

In the 1990s and 2000s, Ms. Sorbara was particularly active in York South-Weston, a working-class Toronto riding that was a battleground between the Liberals and the NDP. She managed campaigns there for Gerard Kennedy, who would later become education minister, and Laura Albanese, who currently holds the seat.

Away from politics, Ms. Sorbara co-founded software company Advanced Utility Systems in 1997, ultimately selling her stake in 2006.

That same year, she served as chief returning officer for the federal Liberals' dramatic leadership convention, which chose Stéphane Dion. In 2009, she joined the staff of Mr. Dion's successor, Michael Ignatieff, as chief operating officer.

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Ms. Sorbara was second-in-command on the disastrous federal campaign in 2011. Shortly after, she returned to Queen's Park as chief of staff to then-education minister Laurel Broten.

In the late summer of 2013, after the Liberals suffered three stinging by-election defeats, Ms. Wynne tapped Ms. Sorbara as campaign director, tasked with imposing discipline on a party that badly needed it.

Liberal insiders credit her with whipping the organization into shape.

One of her most important moves was to switch the Ontario Liberals to Liberalist, a new database of voter information developed by the federal party under Mr. Ignatieff. The Liberals have long lagged the Tories in building such software – widely believed to be a must in winning a modern election campaign – and party sources say Liberalist has proven much more effective than the system the Ontario Liberals were using before.

In a closed-door briefing last March, a record of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail, Ms. Sorbara told hundreds of rank-and-file party organizers she would use the data to check up on their canvassing.

"This will allow me back at central office to track your progress. That will result in the occasional phone call, I'm sure," she said at the weekend session at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

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Despite this long history at the heart of the country's politics, Ms. Sorbara maintains a low public profile. She does not grant interviews or meet with reporters.

That briefing, along with the Olivier tape, reveal some of the few insights into her style and personality. Her loyalty to the Liberals is absolute, as she suggested in her recounting of the time she lost the Guelph nomination.

"[Mr. Ferraro] was in the end the better candidate, because he was a long-time city councillor who'd been elected many times," she told Mr. Olivier. "Sometimes, the party requirement does come before the personal requirement."

Her loyalty is no less strong to Ms. Wynne.

"I say this often but it bears repeating: We're proud that Liberals gave Ontario its first woman premier," she said during the briefing last year, as the crowd drowned her out with applause. "But our work is not done in this area. We have the opportunity to mark history by ensuring Kathleen Wynne becomes the first woman to be elected premier of Ontario."

Ms. Sorbara's work paid off last June, helping deliver an unexpected majority government for the party.

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The long-time politico's few public pronouncements come from her Twitter account. For the most part, they involve encouraging Liberal volunteers or posting photos of her dog, Nellie, named after Nellie McClung.

Her Twitter bio also contains a quote from the legendary women's rights activist and Liberal politician.

"Never retreat, never explain, never apologize," it reads. "Get the thing done and let them howl."

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