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I Stand By Premier Wynne Despite the Sudbury By-Election Allegations

02/24/2015 12:29 EST | Updated 04/26/2015 05:59 EDT

Coming out of the Sudbury by-election, Adam Radwanski writes about how dismayed Premier Kathleen Wynne's supporters must be, noting that during her leadership race there was "a euphoric sense that they could again be proud to be members of their party. For years, they had held their noses and continued to support a government that, under Dalton McGuinty, increasingly seemed to practise a cynical brand of politics about little more than clinging to office. Now, an earnest champion of the grassroots would replace him."

As one of those euphoric leadership supporters, I remain proud of Premier Wynne. In two short years, she's done extraordinary work to make Ontario a better society -- whether raising the minimum wage, heavily investing in transit or tackling sex ed and issues of consent.

Let me explain why I stand by the premier, despite the conflagration at Queen's Park over the Sudbury by-election.

Inducement is a very particular allegation. It has to mean that someone offered something specific in exchange for an agreed upon action by the other party. There's an element to which it works like a contract: in exchange for y, I'll do x.

It appears simply impossible, on the face of the facts, that an inducement was offered to defeated Sudbury Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier so he would step aside for local MP Glen Thibeault to cross the floor, abandoning the NDP for the Ontario Liberals.

Premier Wynne confirmed as much in a defiant press conference, saying, "Andrew Olivier was absolutely aware... that he would not be the candidate. He was not being asked to step aside, because it had already been clearly communicated to him that Glenn was being appointed as the candidate."

You simply can't bribe a guy to step aside when you've just turfed him.

Now, the Opposition seems intent on parsing the exact phrases of the two secretly recorded conversations of Pat Sorbara and a local Sudbury Liberal volunteer with Mr Olivier. That is their prerogative; they have to oppose the government, and no doubt they see political hay in casting aspersions on one of the Premier's most talented and most effective staffers.

But Premier Wynne would know best about when she decided to appoint Mr Thibeault over Mr Olivier. It was her decision to make. As campaign director, Pat Sorbara would've been one of the first to know the premier's decision.

I've listened to the tapes. In Pat's case, sure, I hear a reticence about using the power of appointment, but I also hear that it will be used at the end of the day to appoint Thibeault.

What follows in the conversation is a personal account of Pat's own experience losing a nomination, the merits of 'taking one for the team' and, yes, a discussion of possible positions Mr Olivier could apply for. The premier suggests these weren't inducements ("any suggestion that any position was offered in exchanged for any action is false") but rather attempts to "keep a young man involved".

What do I hear on the tapes? I hear one of the most powerful people in the Premier's Office suggesting to a young mortgage broker with a rookie's passion for politics an exciting possibility: I can't give you a consolation prize, she says, but I'd be lying if I said we'll forget your nascent political career if there's ever a chance to help you down the line.

What I hear in Pat's conversation is an opportunity Olivier could've and perhaps should've seized: he clearly wanted to be elected, but he might have parlayed being a good team player in this instance down the line for, say, a run for city council with strong Liberal backing.

But, again, at no point do I hear a specific offer being made to induce a course of action. It takes both parts of that sentence to form a crime. The premier, further, has made clear that such a scenario would've been, at best, redundant since she would appoint Thibeault regardless of what Olivier chose to do.

Nominations are a tricky part of our democracy. If there's a clear, open and competitive fight between multiple strong candidates, it looks good to the press but it hurts the local membership, dividing the team in an internecine fight. If the Leader's Office is accused of interfering to 'stack the deck', as everyone from Justin Trudeau with Chrystia Freeland to Andrea Horwath with Adam Giambrone, have been, the local party is still bruised, and the leader is lessened.

I respect the clarity and conviction of what Premier Wynne said on this issue: "I have been a failed candidate in a nomination race that was designed for another candidate to win. This experience convinced me that, while nominations should be open and locally controlled, if the leader has chosen the candidate there should be an appointment, not a sham nomination. That is the honest course of action."

The Leader has the prerogative to appoint. There is no shame in using it sparingly.

I believe -- and not simply because of wishful thinking, but rather an analysis of the facts--that nothing will come of any investigation. Therefore, I respect Premier Wynne eschewing the standard political damage controlling of "throwing them under the bus". Frankly, I admire her honesty and defiance: "we will not force someone to resign in the face of allegations I do not believe to be true."

Do I wish this scenario hadn't happened? Yes. Do I feel the Opposition is making hypocritical hay out of a situation they've done many times themselves? Yes. Does it bother me that the Premier is under fire? Yes.

But I also respect her defiance, her honesty and her insistence that she tackle the issue head on, herself, clearly and in public. She's taking responsibility and sticking to her guns. I'd expect no less.

And I admire it.

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