Ontario Provincial Police are stepping up their criminal probe into bribery accusations against one of Premier Kathleen Wynne's top advisers.
Investigators have obtained a court order to get audio recordings of two Liberal operatives, including Ms. Wynne's deputy chief of staff Patricia Sorbara, allegedly offering candidate Andrew Olivier a job or government appointment in exchange for quitting the Sudbury by-election race.
The revelation comes just days before the Thursday vote, which is expected to go down to the wire.
Mr. Olivier said investigators visited him last week with a production order for recordings of his conversations with Ms. Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed, a local Liberal fundraiser. The Liberals wanted Mr. Olivier to give up his bid for the party's nomination so Glenn Thibeault, then an NDP Member of Parliament in Ottawa, could switch parties and get the provincial nomination unopposed.
"[The police] approached me and submitted a production order last week, requesting to have any other information given over to them so that they can conduct their investigation or reopen their investigation," Mr. Olivier told The Globe and Mail. "It shows that they're pursuing the investigation into this."
Mr. Olivier, who is now running as an Independent, said he also sat down with Elections Ontario officials for a lengthy interview.
The Criminal Code's anti-corruption section bans government officials from offering a "reward, advantage or benefit" in exchange for political favours. Such offences carry a penalty of up to five years in prison. Ontario's Elections Act, meanwhile, prohibits offering someone a job in exchange for not running in an election.
OPP Detective-Superintendent Dave Truax confirmed police had obtained the production order and that Mr. Olivier co-operated.
Mr. Olivier, who is quadriplegic, regularly records conversations because it is easier than taking notes. He previously posted both recordings online.
In one telephone call last December, Ms. Sorbara offered Mr. Olivier a menu of possible jobs, including as a constituency assistant or sitting on a provincial commission on accessibility issues.
"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 recording. "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 a seperate meeting at Mr. Olivier's office, Mr. Lougheed made a similar pitch: "The Premier wants to talk to you. We would like to present to you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever."
Mr. Olivier then spoke directly with Ms. Wynne. He says she asked him to give up his bid, but did not personally make any job offers. He declined to say whether he recorded that conversation as well.
Ms. Wynne has defended Ms. Sorbara's actions. The Premier argues that, since she had the power to unilaterally appoint Mr. Thibeault as her candidate, any jobs Ms. Sorbara dangled in front of Mr. Olivier were not offered in exchange for him dropping out.
"I had made a decision about appointing a candidate, which is within the purview of the leader of the Liberal Party," Ms. Wynne said Monday. "At the same time, I tried to keep a young man who had been a candidate previously involved and reached out to him. Did that turn out the way we would've wanted, and is he still involved? No. But would I try to keep him involved again? Absolutely."
Ms. Wynne's spokeswoman, Zita Astravas, said Tuesday both the Premier and Ms. Sorbara were interviewed by Elections Ontario last weekend.
Mr. Olivier went public with the story last December. Police opened an investigation and interviewed Mr. Olivier, but ended the probe after he would not give them the recordings. Det.-Supt. Truax said the OPP did not seek a production order at the time because there was not enough evidence to obtain one from the courts.
"At the time of his interview, there were no probable grounds to use a judicial process (i.e. a search warrant) to extract any additional information on this matter," Det.-Supt. Truax wrote in an e-mail.
Mr. Olivier then released the tapes in January, prompting the OPP to reopen its investigation. Mr. Oliver said he decided to put the recordings out because some people did not believe his account of the conversations.
"It was quite difficult to even campaign on openness and truthfulness and integrity when everyone in town here thought that I was crying wolf," he said.
The Sudbury by-election has been a tight contest between Mr. Thibeault, the NDP's Suzanne Shawbonquit and Mr. Olivier. One Forum poll two weeks ago placed Mr. Thibeault and Ms. Shawbonquit nearly even, at 33 and 30 per cent, respectively, with Mr. Olivier at 22 per cent and Progressive Conservative Paula Peroni trailing.