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Olivier not as ‘strong a candidate as I had thought’: Wynne testifies at Sudbury bribery trial

Premier Kathleen Wynne told Crown prosecutor Vern Brewer the party did not have a go-to candidate when the riding of Sudbury came up for grabs with the surprise resignation of New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino in November 2014.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne arrives to appear as a witness in the Election Act bribery trial in Sudbury. The premier told Crown prosecutor Vern Brewer the party did not have a go-to candidate when the riding of Sudbury came up for grabs.

Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne arrives to appear as a witness in the Election Act bribery trial in Sudbury. The premier told Crown prosecutor Vern Brewer the party did not have a go-to candidate when the riding of Sudbury came up for grabs.

SUDBURY—Premier Kathleen W‎ynne says she was not convinced Andrew Olivier, the losing Liberal candidate in the 2014 election, would be the party’s best bet in a byelection early the following year.

Testifying at the Election Act bribery trial of her former chief of staff Patricia Sorbara, the premier told Crown prosecutor Vern Brewer the party did not have a go-to candidate when the riding of Sudbury came up for grabs with the surprise resignation of New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino in November 2014.

“Andrew Olivier had not been as strong a candidate as I had thought,” Wynne said, referring to the June 2014 province-wide election in which she won a narrow majority but the Liberals lost the riding of Sudbury, held since 1995 by veteran MPP and cabinet minister Rick Bartolucci.

Sorbara and local Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed are accused of offering Olivier, a quadriplegic mortgage brokers, jobs or appointments to exit the party’s nomination race for a February 2015 byelection to make way for Wynne’s preferred candidate.

That was defecting New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault, now Wynne’s energy minister.

Sorbara and Lougheed have pleaded not guilty.

Olivier ended up running in the byelection as an independent, but placed third behind Thibeault and a New Democrat.

While Olivier “seemed like a fine young man” during a 2014 provincial campaign stop in Sudbury, he placed second to Cimino in that race, Wynne said.

“The campaign in Sudbury had not been as strong” because “he (Olivier) had not been able to pull the team together...there was some concern.”

But the possibility of Thibeault as a candidate was “intriguing,” Wynne added in highly anticipated testimony mid-way through the second week of the case expected to continue into October.

While Olivier “seemed like a fine young man” during a 2014 provincial campaign stop in Sudbury, he placed second to Cimino in that race, Wynne said.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

While Olivier “seemed like a fine young man” during a 2014 provincial campaign stop in Sudbury, he placed second to Cimino in that race, Wynne said.

As for the merits of the party leader appointing a candidate, Wynne said “it absolutely depends on the situation.”

Sorbara faces a second count of inducing Thibeault to be the candidate. The Crown says he asked for income replacement through the campaign if he jumped to the provincial Liberals and for jobs for two of his NDP constituency off‎ice staff.

The maximum penalties under the charges are fines of $25,000 and up to two years less a day in jail.

Wynne testified that Sorbara had a say in how party funds were spent in the byelection.

“My understanding is she would have.”

She also told Ontario Court of Justice that she relied on Lougheed for his advice on the ground about political matters, and that he had a good relationship with Thibeault.

At issue in the trial are conversations Olivier recorded with Lougheed and Sorbara with them purportedly offering him jobs.

Defence lawyers argued last week that those conversations on Dec. 11 and 12 of 2014 took place after Thibeault privately agreed to become the candidate.

There was also a call between Sorbara and Olivier ‎three weeks earlier in which she cautioned him that, while he was the 2014 general election candidate, he was not yet the byelection candidate.

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