Ontario Provincial Police will question Premier Kathleen Wynne as part of the criminal investigation into bribery allegations against one of her top aides.
The extraordinary move – a police interview of a sitting premier – comes days after officers accused Ms. Wynne's deputy chief of staff, Patricia Sorbara, of breaking anti-corruption laws by offering a former Liberal candidate a government job in exchange for dropping out of the Sudbury by-election race.
The Premier's office said Monday Ms. Wynne and Ms. Sorbara will meet with OPP investigators. No date for the meeting has been set.
"Our views on this matter are well known, any suggestion that anything was offered in exchange for any action is false," spokeswoman Zita Astravas said in a statement. "We've been clear that the authorities have our full co-operation, and we are confident that after Premier Wynne and Pat Sorbara meet with the investigators, they will reach the same conclusion."
The case has shed light on the oft-murky realm of political patronage. It is a practice tacitly accepted by many politicians but whose mechanics rarely come to light, and police say they may have crossed the line into criminality in this case.
No charges have been laid and the allegations have not been tested in court.
The trouble began last December. Andrew Olivier, a Sudbury mortgage agent who had run for the Liberals in the June provincial election, entered the race for the party's nomination for the upcoming by-election. But the Liberals had recruited Glenn Thibeault, then a federal NDP MP, to switch parties and run for them.
Both Ms. Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed, a Sudbury businessman and Liberal fundraiser, tried to convince Mr. Olivier to give up his bid so Mr. Thibeault could take the nomination unopposed. In those conversations, which Mr. Olivier recorded and later posted on Facebook, Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed discussed government jobs Mr. Olivier could have as they tried to persuade him to drop out of the race.
Mr. Lougheed referred to Mr. Olivier receiving a "reward" for quitting the election; Ms. Sorbara asked Mr. Olivier if he would be interested in work as a constituency assistant, or an appointment to a commission studying disability issues.
A court document filed by police says they believe Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed broke Section 125 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits "negotiating appointments" in exchange for political favours. It carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
The document, called an information to obtain, was filed to get a production order for the originals of Mr. Olivier's recordings.
Mr. Thibeault won the by-election last Thursday for the Liberals, placing more than 1,000 votes ahead of NDP candidate Suzanne Shawbonquit. Mr. Olivier, who ran as an independent, finished a distant third.
Ms. Wynne is listed as being on holiday until next Tuesday, when the legislature resumes; her itinerary records no public appearances until then.
Deputy Premier Deb Matthews on Monday said voters had already rendered their verdict on the scandal.
"I think the people of Sudbury had the opportunity to make a decision and they did," she told reporters following a speech in Toronto. "I think we have to respect the will of the people of Sudbury."
Ms. Matthews said she had read about what Ms. Sorbara had said in the tapes and was "convinced" that "there wasn't a clear exchange offered."
"We take it very seriously and we're co-operating fully," she said.
Detective Superintendent Dave Truax, director of the OPP's criminal investigation service, declined to discuss the planned interview with Ms. Wynne. "As this matter is ongoing, the OPP will not comment further as to whom has been (or not been) interviewed in order to protect the integrity of the investigation," he wrote in an e-mail.
Mr. Lougheed did not respond to a request for comment. Ms. Sorbara forwarded The Globe and Mail's request to Ms. Astravas.
The Sudbury by-election was triggered when New Democrat Joe Cimino resigned five months into his term, citing family and health reasons.