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Politics New Democrat MP defecting to Ontario Liberals for Sudbury by-election

NDP MP Glenn Thibeault is shown in Ottawa on Oct. 4, 2011.

SEAN KILPATRICK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

An NDP Member of Parliament is defecting to the Ontario Liberals to run in an upcoming provincial by-election in Sudbury, dealing a blow to the federal New Democrats less than a year before the next election.

Glenn Thibeault announced Tuesday he will switch parties and levels of government, contending he can do more for his city in Premier Kathleen Wynne's caucus than sitting in federal opposition with Thomas Mulcair.

"I have spoken to Premier Kathleen Wynne about her plan to create greater opportunity and security for all Ontarians – and her plan is exactly what Sudbury needs," Mr. Thibeault said in a statement. "I believe I can make an even greater difference for the constituents of Sudbury as a member of this Ontario Liberal government."

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His statement said his "time at the federal level has come to an end," but it was not immediately clear when he would resign his seat in the House of Commons.

No date has yet been set for the by-election, which must be called by next spring.

In Ottawa, New Democrats were shaken and angered by the move, stating Mr. Thibeault only advised Mr. Mulcair after his defection was made public in the media. The pair had had a number of discussions in recent days, namely after Mr. Thibeault quit as chair of the NDP caucus by invoking a need to be closer to his family.

"This move will anger many NDP volunteers who trusted Glenn and worked hard for him," said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay. "I'm sorry he did this but the NDP base in Sudbury is strong and they won't like being taken for granted."

The new chair of the NDP caucus, London-Fanshawe MP Irene Mathyssen, said the lure of a cabinet position unfortunately appeared to be irresistible for Mr. Thibeault.

"That is what the Liberals do, they throw out candy," she said. "It's very hard to understand why he would regard the Wynne government as the place to go because the real progressives in Ontario are Andrea Horwath's New Democrats."

Ms. Mathyssen expressed her confidence in Mr. Mulcair's leadership and the NDP platform heading into next year's federal election, while acknowledging the threat posed by Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

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"I supposed that people are sometimes attracted to flowing hair and platitudes, but the reality is that federal New Democrats are going to continue to propose practical ideas that help Canadian families," Ms. Mathyssen said.

She added that the objective for New Democrats at this point is to make sure that "Mr. Thibeault does not win the riding."

Mr. Thibeault's move comes a day after the Liberals' former candidate, Andrew Olivier, said Ms. Wynne's office offered him a job or appointment in exchange for quitting the race for the nomination in Sudbury. Mr. Olivier, who had hoped to become the province's first quadriplegic MPP, said the Liberals railroaded him because Ms. Wynne had a different candidate in mind and wanted him to clear the way. The Premier denied that anyone offered Mr. Olivier anything in exchange for him dropping out of the race.

The Ontario NDP hit back hard at Mr. Thibeault's move. House Leader Gilles Bisson, himself a northern MPP, took to Twitter to describe Mr. Thibeault as a "turncoat."

"The Liberal nomination was already tainted by allegations of bribery, and now it's further tainted by the fact that Glenn Thibeault put his career ahead of the people of Sudbury," Mr. Bisson, himself a northern MPP, said in a later statement. "To put it bluntly, this is cynical politicking."

He also sent a letter to Elections Ontario Tuesday asking that they seize Ms. Wynne's hard drive, as well as the computers of her staff, to ensure no emails or other documents relating to the Sudbury nomination are deleted. Mr. Bisson called on Elections Ontario to investigate if the alleged job offer constitutes an Elections Act offence. The Act prohibits bribing people to ensure they do not run in an election.

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Mr. Bisson cited the current police investigation into the Liberals' alleged deletion of emails in the gas plant scandal as evidence the Grits might erase documents related to the Sudbury situation.

"I am deeply concerned that emails or other records relating to these bribery allegations may be destroyed in this instance as well," Mr. Bisson wrote.

The Ontario NDP badly wants to hold on to Sudbury, one of the few bright spots in a largely disappointing election last June. New Democrat Joe Cimino edged Mr. Olivier out by less than 1,000 votes.

Mr. Cimino unexpectedly resigned last month. He cited health and family reasons for stepping down.

In a statement, Ms. Wynne said she was "thrilled" Mr. Thibeault is running for her. She also took an oblique dig at the NDP.

"I know that the residents of Sudbury deserve and are eager to have stable representative [sic] at Queen's Park as soon as possible," she said.

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Ms. Wynne's Liberals are banking that Mr. Thibeault's experience and name recognition will help them take back Sudbury and bolster their four-seat majority in the legislature. The Liberals held the riding for nearly two decades under former cabinet minister Rick Bartolucci, who opted not to seek re-election earlier this year.

A former non-profit executive, Mr. Thibeault has represented Sudbury in the Commons since 2008. He won re-election in 2011 by a 21-point margin.

Mr. Thibeault was the NDP's critic for small business and consumer affairs. He was also caucus chair, before resigning a few weeks ago.

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