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The Premier of Ontario May Have Tried to Buy Off One of Her Candidates

Kathleen Wynne has been implicated in a plot to give a cushy government job to a would-be candidate in order to get him out of the way.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. Photo via Flickr user Joseph Morris

This article first appeared on VICE Canada.

The Premier of Ontario is mired in what appears to be a House of Cards-esque plot that's chock full of deception, secret recordings, and, to hear her new adversary tell it, bribery.

Former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier says a party organizer, the chief of staff to the premier, and Kathleen Wynne herself all offered him government jobs if he stepped aside and let their preferred candidate run.


Now, police are investigating and Wynne herself could be at the heart of that probe.

The whole scandal has cast a spotlight on the underworld of Ontario patronage and nepotism. And it all stems from a hotly contested provincial by-election in the riding of Sudbury.

It began when would-be Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier got a call from local party organizer Gerry Lougheed.

Olivier had narrowly lost a race for the seat in the general election, less than a year earlier, to NDP candidate Joe Cimino. So when Cimino abruptly resigned his seat for health reasons a few months after the election, Olivier decided to take another crack at it.

A few days after Olivier made it public that he would be running again, he got a visit from Lougheed.

"This is a significant conversation, my friend," Lougheed told Olivier.

Lougheed is a mainstay of federal and provincial politics in Sudbury. Olivier calls him a "kingmaker."

The entire conversation is on tape because Olivier, who is quadriplegic, records his conversations rather than taking notes.

What follows is a bombshell.

Call between Gerry Lougheed and Andrew Olivier

"Glenn Thibeault, as of this morning, has decided that he's going to run," Lougheed says.

Thibeault was the federal Member of Parliament for the riding, and a New Democrat.

His decision to switch allegiances came as shock to some, though not to others. In defending his decision to jump ship, Thibeault went after Mulcair—the man he endorsed for leadership of the party in 2012—for his "top-down" approach to running the NDP.


Two party sources who spoke with VICE, however, said that Thibeault was negotiating with the federal Liberal Party as far back as 2009, when Jack Layton was still leader. He reportedly backed off after the poll numbers for then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff cratered.

"I think the nomination is very important to Glenn," Lougheed tells Olivier. "But obviously, he'd like to have an acclamation, with everybody behind him, because the NDP are gonna shit all over him."

"I'm sure," says Olivier.

What comes next is what, according to Olivier and the NDP, amounts to bribery.

If you consider stepping down and getting behind Thibeault, says Lougheed, "the premier wants to talk to you. They would like to present to you options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever."

Lougheed gives Olivier tips on how to get a good deal.

"You need to say: so, why would Andrew Olivier be motivated to do this?" Lougheed tells him. "What's in it for me? Politically, what's in it for me? In my long term, short term, is there an appointment, are you gonna let me head up a commission? What are you giving me, for me to step down, that is worthwhile?"

The conversation lasts 20 minutes. Lougheed leaves. Olivier maintains that he wants to run.

Later that day, Wynne called Olivier. That's the one tape that Olivier hasn't made public, because an investigation by the provincial police and Elections Ontario is ongoing. There's been no indication of what Wynne said to the would-be candidate.


The next day, Olivier received another call. This time, it wasn't a political fixer like Lougheed calling—it was Pat Sorbara, Wynne's deputy chief of staff and campaign director for the Ontario Liberals.

Olivier tells Sorbara that, sorry, but he'll be continuing his candidacy. Sorbara says: too bad, we'll be appointing Thibeault.

Call between Pat Sorbara and Andrew Olivier

But the conversation continues. Sorbara tells Olivier how extraordinary the situation is, and how badly everyone in the Premier's office wants to resolve this amicably.

"Let's just think about the other ways that you could," Sorbara stammers a bit. "I was hesitant to go here because I don't want to look like I'm trying to suggest there's a consolation prize."

Nevertheless, she goes on.

"But I heard you say, 'I wanna be a boss, I wanna be at the table,' and that's what [Wynne] was trying to say to you," Sorbara says, offering him an advisory role on disability advocacy and policy, as an executive of the party, or a job in Thibeault's office, if he wins.

All of the jobs bandied about by Sorbara and Lougheed, at this point, would normally come with a stipend or salary paid for through the government.

The two end the conversation. Olivier says he'll think about it. In the end, he rejected the government.

Four days later, Olivier held a press conference to allege that the party offered him a job in exchange for stepping aside.


"I will not be bullied or bought," Olivier swore.

The Investigation
After levying the accusations at the two Liberal organizers, Olivier got a call from the Ontario Provincial Police. They wanted the tapes.

On the advice of his lawyer, Olivier asked that they issue a summons for the material. They refused and closed the investigation.

That's pretty exceptional, as the charges they're investigating are not small affairs. The Criminal Code makes it illegal for public office holders to horse trade an office under their purview in exchange for some political benefit. Penalties include jail time.

After the OPP walked away, Olivier told VICE, he was frustrated.

"It's hard to go outside when people think you lied," he said. "When people think you cried wolf."

Olivier eventually got the summons he was asking for, not from the OPP but from Elections Ontario. The Elections Act states clearly that it's illegal to "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."

Olivier coughed up all three tapes. Then he posted two of them to YouTube.

In the maelstrom of scrutiny, the OPP re-opened its investigation. Wynne will also be meeting with Elections Ontario this week.

Wynne's office has been categorical in arguing that "any suggestion that anything was offered in exchange for any action is false." Olivier was already told he would not be the candidate, her office contends, and therefore there couldn't possibly be bought off. The office also rightly pointed out that Lougheed has no formal job with the party.


Yet the tapes prove that Lougheed made a very clear request: that Olivier withdraw and allow the process to look like Thibeault was running unopposed, instead of forcing Wynne to appoint him and make everything look undemocratic.

Both Wynne's office and Lougheed said he was in no position to offer a job to Olivier.

Lougheed's prominence in the party is not insignificant, however. He's one of only seven individuals who donated the maximum amount—$9,975—to the Liberals in 2014. He's also seen as a crucial organizer and fundraiser in the riding in question. A local organizer called him the neighborhood " muckety-muck."

He also organizes extensively for the federal Liberal Party. That might explain why Marianne Matichuk, who also wanted to run, is now seeking the federal nomination. With Thibeault gone, it's much more likely that she'll actually win.

Olivier ended up running just the same. He announced his intention to run as an independent in early January.

Andrew Olivier. Photo via campaign literature

Polling firm Mainstreet Technologies found 14 percent of the riding would vote "other" come election day. By the middle of January another firm, Forum Research, had Olivier at 22 percent. Another firm has confirmed that about one in five voters were siding with Olivier around that time.

Thibeault also lost some support from the party's top brass. Liberal riding president Bill Nurmi resigned, along with a good chunk of the riding association executives, after Olivier went forward with the tapes.


Thibeault just appointed his own people to the board—the new president is his former staffer and the new secretary is his sister.

The Mainstreet poll found that 46 percent of voters disapprove of Thibeault's decision to run for the Liberals.

VICE asked what drove Olivier's decision to run as an independent which, normally, would be an adventure doomed to absolute failure.

"I wanted to be in a position to best represent Sudbury," Olivier said. "To best represent the people that supported me."

He says his rejection of the deal has sparked something with voters—a rejection of the backroom deals that all three parties make.

"We've got some momentum here," he says.

A Culture of Patronage?
The Ontario Liberal Party is certainly not the first provincial government to employ patronage as a means to an end.

Indeed, a VICE analysis of information from the Ontario Public Appointments Secretariat reveals that there is more than one patronage job on the provinces' various commissions and boards.

Both Gerry Lougheed and his partner, Louise Paquette, have received jobs from the province.

Lougheed sits on the Sudbury Police Services Board, thanks to an appointment from the Premier, while Paquette is the Executive Director of a regional health board with the provincially-appointed board members hiring Paquette.

Several other Liberal-involved Ontarians also have jobs thanks to Wynne.

Gurjit Sidhu, a federal Liberal riding president and nomination candidate, sits on the Citizens' Council. Sandra Pupatello, who also ran for the Liberal leadership, got a job on the board of Hydro One. Vito Sgro, a riding president and organizer of Wynne's leadership bid, is on the board of Infrastructure Ontario. Christopher Hoffman, whose $7,500 donation makes him the third-largest individual donor to Wynne's leadership campaign, was appointed by Wynne to Toronto's health board.

Each of those jobs comes with considerable financial incentive: per diems ranging from $200 to $500.

There are dozens of other Liberal donors who show up on the various boards and commissions that fall under Wynne's purview.

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