TORONTO — Ontario Provincial Police have laid bribery charges under the Election Act against two provincial Liberals.
Pat Sorbara, who recently took a leave of absence as the premier's deputy chief of staff to become party CEO and 2018 campaign director, is charged with two counts of bribery under the act.
Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal operative in Sudbury, Ont., faces one count of the same charge.
Both are to appear in court in Sudbury on Nov. 21.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks in Toronto on March 3, 2015. (Photo: Chris Young/CP)
Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes says in a statement that it was a "complex and unprecedented investigation" for the OPP anti-rackets branch.
The charges, which stem from allegations Sorbara and Lougheed offered a would-be candidate a job or appointment to get him to step aside in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury, come in the midst of two new ongoing byelection campaigns in Ottawa and Niagara.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said earlier Tuesday that Sorbara would step aside as party CEO and campaign director when she was charged.
The OPP had been investigating the pair both criminally and under the Election Act. Sorbara was cleared criminally, but Lougheed was charged with one count of counselling an offence not committed and one count of unlawfully influencing or negotiating appointments — charges that were stayed earlier this year.
Lougheed maintains he did nothing wrong
Following the staying of Lougheed's criminal charges in April, the police turned their focus to the Election Act, specifically a bribery section that says no person shall directly or indirectly "give, procure or promise or agree to procure an office or employment to induce a person to become a candidate, refrain from becoming a candidate or withdraw his or her candidacy."
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.
Lougheed's lawyer, Michael Lacy, said in a statement that they are disappointed to now have new charges under the Election Act.
"Although these are not criminal charges, Gerry has maintained that he didn't do anything that would attract a culpable finding," Lacy wrote. "We will review the evidence that has been compiled and respond in court to the allegations."
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The investigation was sparked by recordings made by Andrew Olivier, who was the Liberal candidate in Sudbury during the 2014 general election. As a quadriplegic man who often records his conversations in lieu of taking notes, Olivier recorded chats he had with Sorbara and Lougheed. Technical difficulties prevented him from recording a call he had with Wynne herself.
The Liberals have denied wrongdoing, saying they made no specific offer but were trying to keep Olivier involved in the party after deciding to appoint Glenn Thibeault as their candidate as he left his role as the New Democrat MP for the riding.