Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says her government made "no specific offer" to a Sudbury man in exchange for dropping his candidacy in the Feb. 5 by-election.
Speaking for the first time since Andrew Olivier released audio recordings of two Liberal operatives, including a senior aide to Ms. Wynne, offering to help him get a government job as they tried to persuade him to quit the race, the Premier defended the Liberals' actions Friday.
"What all of us were trying to do was to present opportunities that Andrew might want to take advantage of to stay involved as part of the Liberal team, the Liberal family," Ms. Wynne said at an unrelated press conference at a college in Sault Ste. Marie. "There was no specific offer made. There was no specificity around what the options might be."
In one recording, Patricia Sorbara, Ms. Wynne's deputy chief of staff, dangled several possible posts in front of Mr. Olivier, including a job in a constituency office, sitting on a provincial board studying accessibility issues or joining the Liberal Party executive.
"We should have the broader discussion about what is it that you'd be most interested in doing and then decide what shape that could take," Ms. Sorbara said in the tape. "Whether it's a full-time or a part-time job at a constituency office, whether it is appointments to boards or commissions, whether it is also going on the executive."
In another recording, Sudbury Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed told Mr. Olivier: "The Premier wants to talk to you. We would like to present to you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever."
The Liberals wanted Mr. Olivier, a mortgage broker who had run for the party in the last general election, to drop out of the by-election race so Glenn Thibeault, then the federal NDP MP for Sudbury, could cross the floor and take the provincial Liberal nomination unopposed. Mr. Olivier is now running as an independent.
Offering someone a bribe, including a job, in exchange for not running in an election is illegal under the provincial Elections Act. Both opposition parties have asked Elections Ontario to investigate the incident.
After Mr. Olivier released the tapes Thursday, Ms. Wynne's office raised eyebrows by asserting that Ms. Sorbara had not offered Mr. Olivier anything.
"The tape confirms what Pat Sorbara said publicly last month – that any suggestion that anything was offered in exchange for any action is false," a statement from Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman, Lyndsay Miller, said.
Ms. Wynne tried to explain the seeming discrepancy on Friday, contending that the discussions were too general to constitute a particular job offer.
"There was a sort of engagement with Andrew on what he might be interested in doing going forward. But there was absolutely no commitment that any one of those things might come to fruition," the Premier said.
Ms. Wynne suggested discussions such as the one Ms. Sorbara had with Mr. Olivier are common practice in the party.
"We always try to work with people who have been part of the party to find ways to keep them engaged. That's what the conversations were about. That's what the tapes confirm," she said.
The conversations between Mr. Olivier, Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed all took place last year, shortly before Ms. Wynne unveiled Mr. Thibeault as her choice to carry the Liberal banner.
Each conversation is about 20 minutes long, as first Mr. Lougheed and then Ms. Sorbara tried to persuade Mr. Olivier to clear the way for Mr. Thibeault.
"I hate to sound kind of Machiavellian about it, but … at the end of the day, if you take the high road on this – what is your reward?" Mr. Lougheed told Mr. Olivier.
In the second chat, Ms. Sorbara told him: "If there are other things you are particularly interested in that are within her [Ms. Wynne's] realm to make you part of, then she is more than prepared to do that."
Mr. Olivier also spoke by telephone with Ms. Wynne around the same time. It is not clear if he recorded that conversation. Mr. Olivier, who is quadriplegic, tapes many of his conversations in lieu of taking notes.
"I had hoped that we could have had a situation in Sudbury where Andrew Olivier would be part of the Liberal team. I had made a decision that there was another candidate who we wanted to carry the Liberal banner in Sudbury," Ms. Wynne said. "I don't know whether my conversation with Andrew was taped. I have no idea."