Ontario premier to testify at bribery trial
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne makes her way to the the Council of Federation meetings in Edmonton Alta, on Tuesday July 18, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, July 25, 2017 3:13PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 25, 2017 3:14PM EDT
TORONTO -- Kathleen Wynne will testify as a Crown witness at an upcoming Election Act bribery trial for two Liberals, putting the Ontario premier directly in the spotlight of an already politically charged case.
Wynne could invoke parliamentary privilege to avoid testifying, but will not, she said Tuesday.
"I will testify, I will go along with the process and do what I can to clarify, as I have in the legislature many, many, many times," she said.
Pat Sorbara, the premier's former deputy chief of staff, faces two bribery charges under the Election Act, and Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal fundraiser, faces one charge. Their trial is set to start Sept. 7 and last several weeks. That could mean a verdict is delivered just months before the June 2018 election.
The pair is accused of offering a would-be candidate, Andrew Olivier, a job or appointment to get him to step aside in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury, Ont., for Wynne's preferred candidate, Glenn Thibeault.
At the time, Thibeault was a New Democrat MP. He is now the energy minister.
Though Wynne is being called as a witness by the Crown, she has said that she had already decided Olivier would not be the byelection candidate and as a result there was no need to offer him anything in exchange for not running.
Sorbara and Lougheed both deny the charges.
Lougheed had been charged criminally, with one count of counselling an offence not committed and one count of unlawfully influencing or negotiating appointments, but those charges were stayed last year.
The investigation was sparked by recordings made by 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 bribery section of the Election Act 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.
When the charges were laid in November, Sorbara had recently taken a leave of absence as the premier's deputy chief of staff to become the Ontario Liberal Party CEO and 2018 campaign director. She stepped down after being charged.
When asked Tuesday if she would welcome Sorbara back to work in her office if she was acquitted, Wynne said she looked forward to the opportunity to work with Sorbara again.
A second Liberal trial is set to start just days apart in Toronto.
David Livingston and Laura Miller, who were then-premier Dalton McGuinty's chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, face charges of breach of trust, and mischief in relation to data and misuse of a computer system to commit the offence of mischief.
They were charged after a police investigation into the deletion of emails about the Liberals' decision to cancel two gas plants prior to the 2011 election, at a cost of up to $1.1 billion.
Both Miller and Livingston have denied the charges. Their trial is scheduled the trial for six weeks starting Sept. 11.