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Politics Wynne aides offered candidate a job to step aside, tapes reveal

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to media at Queen's Park Toronto, Ontario, Tuesday, January 6, 2015.

Two Liberal operatives, including a top aide to Premier Kathleen Wynne, told a Sudbury man he would get a job or appointment to a government commission as they tried to persuade him to give up his bid for the party nomination in a Feb. 5 by-election.

Andrew Olivier on Thursday released audio recordings of his conversations with Patricia Sorbara, Ms. Wynne's deputy chief of staff, and Liberal activist Gerry Lougheed. Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed tried to persuade Mr. Olivier last month to clear the way so Glenn Thibeault, then the federal NDP MP for Sudbury, could cross the floor and take the Liberal nomination unopposed.

Mr. Olivier, who is quadriplegic, frequently records conversations because he cannot take notes.

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"The Premier wants to talk to you. We would like to present to you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever," Mr. Lougheed says to Mr. Olivier on the tape, after asking him to drop out in favour of Mr. Thibeault.

In a later phone call, Ms. Sorbara tells him: "Nobody wanted to say, 'Oh, here's your consolation prize.' But if you're open to those discussions, there are many people willing to have them."

The recordings add grist to a scandal overshadowing the Feb. 5 by-election. The Elections Act prohibits bribery, including inducing someone not to become a candidate by offering them "an office or employment." Both opposition parties have asked Elections Ontario to investigate.

The saga began when Mr. Olivier, a mortgage broker who ran for the Liberals in June's general election, signalled his interest last month in running as a Liberal again. Shortly after, he accused Mr. Lougheed and Ms. Sorbara of offering him a job. The Premier's office denied the allegation.

Then on Thursday Mr. Olivier, who is now running as an independent, posted the tapes online. He said Mr. Lougheed was the first to approach him, scheduling a face-to-face meeting at his office.

"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 says in the recording. "What do they say? 'Andrew Olivier took a bullet for us, so what do we give to Andrew Olivier?' And by the way, I've already raised that question."

Mr. Olivier tells Mr. Lougheed he will stay in the race. Shortly after, Mr. Olivier said, Ms. Wynne called him directly and he repeated his refusal to drop out. Then, he got a phone call from Ms. Sorbara.

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In the recording, Ms. Sorbara suggests several possible jobs for Mr. Olivier, including work in Mr. Thibeault's constituency office should he win the election, an appointment to a provincial disability panel or a post on 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," she says. "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."

If he quits the race for the good of the party, Ms. Sorbara says, it will help him down the road: "You're being asked to do a favour, I guess, to make the sacrifice this time. That also can go a long way in terms of opening up options."

On Thursday, Ms. Wynne's office continued to deny Mr. Olivier's allegations.

"The tape confirms what Pat Sorbara said publicly last month – that any suggestion that anything was offered in exchange for any action is false. Olivier had already been informed that he would not be the candidate. Pat Sorbara has been vindicated of the false allegations," Lyndsay Miller, a spokeswoman for the Premier, wrote in a statement. "Gerry Lougheed is not government or Liberal Party staff, he speaks for himself."

In a statement, Mr. Lougheed said: "At no time did I make promises to Andrew there would be a job or an appointment in it for him if he stepped aside."

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The Sudbury by-election was triggered when rookie NDP MPP Joe Cimino abruptly resigned just five months into his term. The NDP has nominated Suzanne Shawbonquit; Paula Peroni is the Tory candidate.

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