TORONTO — Premier Kathleen Wynne says the Ontario Liberal Party’s CEO will step aside if she is charged under the Election Act.
Wynne was responding to a report in the Toronto Star that the Ontario Provincial Police will lay a bribery charge under that act against Pat Sorbara.
Sorbara recently took a leave of absence as the premier’s deputy chief of staff to become party CEO and 2018 campaign director.
The reportedly looming charges bring a 2015 Sudbury byelection scandal back to the surface — in the midst of two new ongoing byelections in Ottawa and Niagara.
“We are now at a point where we understand that charges will be laid and I said in 2015 if charges were laid then Pat would step aside and if they’re laid that’s what will happen,” Wynne said Tuesday.
The Star reports that Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal operative in Sudbury, Ont., will also be charged.
Sorbara and Lougheed had been under investigation over allegations they offered a would-be candidate a job or appointment to get him to step aside in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury.
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.
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.
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.