Elections Ontario said Wynne's deputy chief of staff Pat Sorbara and Liberal operative Gerry Lougheed apparently violated a bribery section of the Election Act after it found evidence they offered a job or appointment to former candidate Andrew Olivier to step aside in the Feb. 5 byelection.
Ontario Provincial Police are also investigating whether the alleged actions of Sorbara and Lougheed violated the Criminal Code.
While repeating that no specific offer was made to Olivier, Wynne said the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats both engaged in patronage appointments in the past, and that members of both parties had offered the Liberals to resign in exchange for government jobs.
"I'm not going to name names," said Wynne. "I'm making a broader point that the rhetoric that's coming from the opposition is hypocritical."
Wynne repeatedly compared patronage appointments with the allegations of bribery, and called it "semantics" when it was suggested they are not the same.
The premier tried to "change the channel" from a police investigation into the Liberals' behaviour in the byelection, said PC house leader Steve Clark.
"It's unconscionable to put patronage and bribery in the same sentence," he said.
The NDP called it "a desperate and cynical attempt" to distract from the criminal investigations into Wynne's staff and Liberal insiders.
"She threw out slanderous accusations casting a dark shadow over the entire Ontario legislature," said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson.
Wynne also dismissed demands she ask Sorbara to step aside as her deputy chief of staff.
"I will not force someone to resign in the face of allegations that I do not believe to be true," she said. "Accusing people of being criminals when there is an investigation going on is wrong."
Both opposition parties said Wynne must "come clean" about her role in "the apparent contravention" of the Election Act by Sorbara and Lougheed.
"Did she, the premier, direct them to make what sounds like a bribe," asked interim PC leader Jim Wilson. "If not, she should just say so and remove the bad apples."
Wynne insisted she'd decided last November that New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault would be the Liberal candidate in Sudbury, and that fact was communicated to Olivier.
"Let me be very clear on this point: Andrew Olivier was absolutely aware during those conversations that he would not be the candidate," she said.
But a transcript of Sorbara's conversation with Olivier suggests no final decision had been made on appointing Thibeault or allowing a nomination meeting in Sudbury.
"(The premier) is going to have to make a decision around the appointment, right, versus, allowing this to go ahead," said Sorbara. "You've now been directly asked by the leader and the premier to make a decision to step aside to allow Glenn to ... basically have the opportunity uncontested."
Elections Ontario concluded that Sorbara and Lougheed's actions "constitute an apparent contravention" of a section of the Election Act concerning "bribery in connection with inducing a person to become, refrain from becoming, or withdrawing from being a candidate."
The agency has no mandate to conduct prosecutions, so it sent the case to the Ministry of the Attorney General, which in turn delegated the federal Public Prosecution Service to decide whether or not to lay charges.
A conviction under the bribery section of the Election Act carries a penalty of up to $5,000. If a judge finds it was broken "knowingly," the penalty is a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to two years less a day in jail.
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