Sudbury bribery trial reveals Liberal infighting
Last week, the Liberal candidate for the riding in the June 2014 provincial election – Andrew Olivier – testified that retired Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci did not campaign with him at all during the election.
Olivier made the comments while testifying at the trial of Sudbury businessman and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed Jr. and the premier’s former deputy chief of staff, Patricia Sorbara.
Sorbara and Lougheed are charged under the Ontario Election Act with trying to get Olivier — the party’s unsuccessful candidate in the 2014 general election — out of the running for the byelection with a promise of a job or appointment.
Olivier’s last week comments were contrasted to what Sorbara had believed. In a recorded conversation with Olivier — played in court — she told him that Bartolucci had indicated to Premier Kathleen Wynne’s staff that he was out every day with him during the campaign.
On Monday, former riding association president Bill Nurmi testified that when a riding association meeting was held Nov. 26, 2014, Andre Bisson, the party’s Northern Ontario vice-president, took a neutral stance on how a candidate could be selected for the pending byelection in February 2015.
However, the next day, Bisson sent an email to Sorbara urging her to get Wynne to appoint Olivier or ensure he was acclaimed to run in the byelection.
That went against Nurmi’s position that he expressed at the Nov. 26 meeting. Nurmi said he wanted an open nomination meeting to select a candidate.
“He (Bisson) wanted an uncontested nomination,” noted Michael Lacy, Lougheed’s lawyer, during cross-examination. “That’s undemocratic.”
Nurmi, who had the support of other members of his riding association executive in pushing for an open nomination, said it was.
“Mr. Bisson didn’t bring me into the loop as to what he was trying to do,” said Nurmi. “He stayed neutral at the meeting. He wanted an open discussion and getting everybody’s opinion.”
It also came out yesterday the riding association executive didn’t want former Greater Sudbury mayor Marianne Matichuk appointed as the Liberal candidate, either. Members had been hearing rumours that Wynne might appoint her as the Liberal candidate.
“Did you have someone ask Marianne Matichuk not to attend the meeting on Nov. 26?” asked Lacy. “Did you know that if Marianne Matichuk attended the meeting, most of the association executive would not attend the meeting?”
“I didn’t know that,” answered Nurmi, whom Lacy prodded into saying he could not say the scenario didn’t happen.
Lacy also asked Nurmi if Olivier’s declaration on Facebook in early December that he would be seeking the nomination was presumptive, given that no decision had been made on how to select a candidate.
“He should have had (the candidate selection process) clarified before making the statement,” said Nurmi. “At that moment, there was no venue for him to run.”
“From your perspective, Mr. Olivier was very green when it came to politics?” asked Lacy.
“Yes, he was,” said Nurmi.
The 19-year association member also testified that when Wynne announced on Dec. 16, 2014, that then-Sudbury New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault would be appointed as the Liberal candidate for the provincial byelection, he did not agree with the decision.
In fact, he declined to attend Thibeault’s formal nomination event.
“I was asked to go to Alexandria’s (restaurant), show my face, and say ‘thank you,'” he said. “I refused.”
Nurmi said that following the June 2014 provincial election, many of the riding association executive, as well as many of its members, were looking at stepping down, since the man they had worked with for so many years — Bartolucci — had retired.
“I think it was a time to move on,” he said. “The way things were going on, it goes back to the (leadership) race. We had backed another leadership candidate. There was some animosity between the Ontario Liberal Party and us. Things were changing.”
Nurmi also testified that when assistance, including fundraising and sign help, was offered to Olivier with his campaign in the June 2014 election, Olivier’s people turned it down, saying “we got this.”
Nurmi also noted that when Bartolucci first sought the riding nomination upon entering provincial politics, the nomination meeting was wild.
“It was crazy,” he recalled. “We had lawyers on the floor fighting with proxies.”
Also testifying Monday was Ontario Liberal Party executive director Simon Tunstall. He said he sent Sorbara an email Nov. 23, following a regular meeting of the party’s executive council that touched on the vacant Sudbury riding seat. He said the executive council determined the best way for the party to deal with the byelection was to appoint someone quickly.
The Sudbury byelection had become necessary after New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino resigned Nov. 20, 2014.
Tunstall talked about his own experience in a byelection in the Kitchener-Waterloo area in 2011, when the Liberal candidate who lost wanted to run again. It took three or four months of discussions to finally clear things for him to run again.
“We wasted three-four months campaigning (to run) and not preparing for the byelection,” he explained. “We had made a very big mistake in 2011. We ended up with the same candidate … This is just me offering my personal view because of my background and outlining it to Pat.”
Tunstall said it was also rare for the governing party to win a byelection and that the longer a seat remains empty, voters find more ways to be upset with the government.
Tunstall, who did not know about Thibeault’s pending defection to the Liberals, said he had never heard of him and had to look him up when Wynne made the formal announcement on Dec. 16.
When asked if a “star candidate” always wins an election, Tunstall said no.
“But, he has a better chance than a non-star candidate,” he said.
Lougheed faces one count and Sorbara two counts under the Ontario Election Act.
The bribery section of the 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.”
Offences under the Act are not criminal, but a conviction can result in a fine of up to $5,000. If a judge/justice of the peace finds the offence occurred “knowingly”, he or she can impose a fine of up to $25,000 and/or up to two years in jail.
The trial continues Tuesday.