POLITICS

Kathleen Wynne Doesn't Know If Spurned Byelection Candidate Recorded Chat

01/16/2015 10:47 EST | Updated 03/18/2015 05:59 EDT
SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. - Premier Kathleen Wynne doesn't know if a conversation she had with a would-be byelection candidate was recorded, but if it was, the audio would confirm she made no specific offers to him in return for him stepping aside, she said Friday.

Wynne asked Andrew Olivier, the Liberal's candidate in Sudbury, Ont., in last June's general election, not to seek the nomination for the Feb. 5 byelection because she had another preferred candidate, later revealed to be NDP MP Glenn Thibeault.

Olivier has alleged that the Liberals offered him a job or appointment in exchange for stepping aside and on Thursday posted audio to YouTube of conversations with two Liberals that he says back up his claims.

But Wynne said the recordings confirm what she has said all along, that they were encouraging Olivier to stay involved with the party, but no specific offers or commitments were made.

"I don't know whether my conversation with Andrew was taped, I have no idea," Wynne said Friday in Sault Ste. Marie.

"If there is a tape and if my comments are released it will confirm once again that 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...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."

Olivier, who is a quadriplegic and records conversations in lieu of taking notes, did not respond to an email asking if he had taped his conversation with Wynne.

In one of the recordings he posted to YouTube a man he identified as Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal and chair of Sudbury's police services board, says he is there on behalf of the premier to ask if he would consider stepping aside and nominating Thibeault.

"In the course of that deliberation the premier wants to talk to you," the man says. "We would like to present to you options in terms of appointments, jobs or whatever, that you and her and (Ontario Liberal campaign director) Pat Sorbara can talk about."

Lougheed is neither a government nor Liberal staff member and speaks for himself, the premier's office said in a statement.

Lougheed did not return messages seeking comment, but in a statement to local media he said that he does not have the authority to offer jobs and "at no time" did he promise Olivier a job or appointment if he stepped aside.

Sorbara called Olivier the next day and suggested Wynne had all but decided to appoint Thibeault as the candidate in favour of an open nomination race.

"We should have the broader discussion about what is it that you'd be most interested in doing then decide what shape that could take that would fulfil that, is what I'm getting at, whether it's a full-time or part-time job at a (constituency) office, whether it is appointments to boards or commissions, whether it is also going on the (party executive)," Sorbara said.

The premier's office said in a statement that the recording vindicates Sorbara, that nothing was offered in exchange for any action by Olivier, as he had already been informed at that point that he would not be the candidate.

Olivier is now running in the byelection as an independent.

The Sudbury seat was vacated in November by New Democrat Joe Cimino, who resigned after just five months as a member of provincial parliament. The seat was previously a long-held Liberal riding and Sorbara told Olivier the premier is desperate — "desperate in a good way" — to get it back.

The Progressive Conservatives had asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate Olivier's allegations, suggesting they could contravene sections of the Criminal Code that relate to offering government advantages and securing appointments.

The OPP determined this week no criminal offence was committed, but the Tories have asked them to reopen the investigation in light of Olivier's audio.

Elections Ontario is also investigating to determine if the alleged actions contravene the Election Act.

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