Police believe two Liberal operatives, including one of Premier Kathleen Wynne's top aides, broke the law by offering a former candidate a government job in exchange for dropping out of the Sudbury by-election race.
The revelation, in a court document obtained by The Globe and Mail on election day, capped a dramatic campaign that included everything from a high-profile party defection to tape-recorded conversations that are now at the centre of a criminal probe.
Despite the scandal, the Liberals pulled off a win. Liberal Glenn Thibeault, who defected from the federal New Democrats to run for the provincial Liberals, beat out NDP candidate Suzanne Shawbonquit by over 1,000 votes.
Shortly before 11 p.m., Ms. Wynne and Mr. Thibeault took the stage in a hotel atrium to the strains of AC/DC's Thunderstruck.
"There was a lot of negativity in this campaign, and you saw through that," she told hundreds of cheering Liberal faithful. "With your optimism, you saw the positivity. You ran a terrific campaign."
But it was Independent candidate Andrew Olivier – who placed a distant third – who was at the heart of the by-election drama, which will hang over the party even after the ballots are counted.
The Ontario Provincial Police investigation turns on conversations Mr. Olivier had last December with Patricia Sorbara, Ms. Wynne's deputy chief of staff, and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed.
At the time, Mr. Olivier was seeking the Liberal nomination. But Ms. Wynne instead wanted then-federal MPP Mr. Thibeault to get the nomination unopposed. Both Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed tried to persuade Mr. Olivier to drop out.
Mr. Olivier, who is quadriplegic and records conversations in lieu of taking notes, made tapes of his discussions. In those recordings, Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed dangled possible job options for Mr. Olivier. Ms. Sorbara cited posts as a constituency assistant, or an appointment to a government commission studying accessibility issues.
In an information to obtain, a police document sworn before a judge to get a production order for originals of Mr. Olivier's tapes, police allege Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed broke federal corruption laws by "negotiating appointments," citing section 125 of the Criminal Code.
The police accusations have not been tested in court, and no charges have been laid.
"I do believe that Gerry Lougheed and Patricia Sorbara both engaged in soliciting and negotiating with Andrew Olivier in their respective conversations," Detective-Constable Erin Thomas, an investigator with the corruption unit of the OPP's anti-rackets branch, wrote in the ITO. "Lougheed and Sorbara both initiated discussion with Olivier surrounding a proposed 'trade' or exchange in order to compensate him and influence him to comply with their request."
Both Mr. Lougheed and Ms. Sorbara invoked "the authority of the Premier" to back up their job offers, Det.-Const. Thomas wrote.
"I believe this reference to the Premier's authority threatens the appearance of the government's integrity," she wrote.
The Premier has defended Ms. Sorbara, contending that because she had the power to block Mr. Olivier's candidacy, any job discussions with Mr. Olivier were not undertaken in exchange for him dropping out. She has also argued there was "no specific offer" made in the taped conversations.
Mr. Lougheed has also maintained his innocence. He has said that he has no power to give Mr. Olivier a government job in any event.
Ms. Wynne also spoke with Mr. Olivier directly last December to encourage him to give up his nomination bid, but Mr. Olivier says she did not personally make a job offer. There is no recording of that conversation.
The OPP ITO reveals that police agree the tapes did not represent a specific offer, but they contend that any discussion of trading a job for a political benefit is illegal. The OPP argue that, even if the person making the offer has no power to actually fulfill grant the job, that action is still forbidden by the criminal code.
"It is a crime to negotiate in any way about an appointment to any public office or government job," wrote Crown prosecutor Nick Devlin in the Production Order.
Mr. Olivier ultimately rebuffed Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed, and went public with the accusations.
Ms. Sorbara is a veteran Liberal who ran Ms. Wynne's successful election effort last year. Mr. Lougheed is a local Liberal fundraiser and businessman. He also chairs Sudbury's police services board.
Police said Mr. Olivier complied with the production order and handed over the recordings.
The by-election was triggered in November, when NDP MPP Joe Cimino abruptly resigned just five months after winning the seat in the June election, citing family and health reasons.