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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco, Marit Stiles and Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

The Sudbury By-election: Business As Usual, Or Money Business?

The Liberals are defending allegations that two party operatives tried to persuade a former Liberal candidate to step aside, rather than run to be their candidate in by-election. Are they correct? And if it is, is it any justification for allegedly offering a job or appointment likely paid for by the public for partisan purposes?


John Capobianco:

It seems the by-election in Sudbury is still in the news and not for the right reasons. By now, it should have been a two-day story about the fact that the Liberals won the seat and took it from the NDP and did so with federal NDP defector-turned-Liberal Glenn Thibeault.

However, the news is about the alleged promise of jobs or appointments made to the former Liberal candidate in that riding, Andrew Olivier.

And the alleged promises of jobs or appointments came from Liberal operatives in an attempt to have Mr. Olivier not run as an independent as he ended up doing anyway. The Premier is indignant at the Opposition for protesting this action and calling for the resignation of the two Liberal operatives involved. In fact, the Premier says that she is "personally insulted" by these attacks.

So all this aside, the Premier also claims that everyone or party does this.

She is probably accurate, but it doesn't make it right, nor does it make it so that we should sweep this under the carpet.

This is not how politics should be done, and it is not what voters expect of their representatives. Politics is not and should never be about the money — or personal gain. It should be about the public good and public policy. Until we get back to that attitude, I am afraid this will happen again.


Bernie Farber:

John as we have discussed in the past, allegations are not finding of any guilt. I have read the transcripts of the tapes and heard the Premier's explanation. She had already made a decision on the appointment and it wasn't Olivier. Thus no inducement could have been offered

There was no attempt to offer money so that Olivier would not run. He already knew he wouldn't be able to do so. And the alleged offer of a paltry sum to a mortgage broker making a good living seems absurd on its face.

Why can we not believe that this was an honest attempt to keep someone involved in Liberal politics? Simple — it's called politics. It's called the "gotcha" game. Extrapolate, make things up to destroy your opponent. That is what needs to change.


Marit Stiles:

Bernie, the fact is that the Chief Electoral Officer has deemed Patricia Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed have breached the Elections Act.

There is, to the contrary, no indication that there was an 'honest attempt to keep someone involved in Liberal politics.' Olivier is alleged to have been offered enticements to step aside quietly and those enticements appear to be jobs or appointments. This is not I asserting this, or John asserting this. It's no less than the Chief Electoral Officer. Furthermore, he has asked the Attorney General to investigate.

So, let's put aside the notion that this is something cooked up or misunderstood. Certainly, innocent until proven guilty, but we have the Chief Electoral Officer saying very clearly that it appears the Act was breached.

I also think it bears noting that this is the first time an Ontario Chief Electoral Officer has referred such a matter to the Attorney General, and that this is a significant offence if they are found guilty.

And finally, only Wynne claims she decided to appoint Thibeault before anyone talked to Olivier. She said in the legislature she “had already had a conversation with the former candidate about the fact that [she] was going to appoint a candidate.” But Lougheed, Sorbara and Olivier all say that no decision was made.

So the Premier seems alone in her assertions, and the recordings don’t support them.


John Capobianco:

Marit has explained this so eloquently and accurately and it still sounds bad. The situation is unfortunate and as political operatives I am sure that both Ms. Sorbara and Mr. Lougheed were just following orders to manage the situation before the by-election was called, as any Party organizer would do — the problem they both face is that Mr. Olivier tape recorded the conversations.

All political parties want to ensure they win, whether in a general election or in by-elections. They want more seats than their opponents. So it is not surprising that the political backrooms will do what they can to ensure their respective teams win.

However, there are rules, and the rules are to prevent just this type of thing from happening — and there are rules because just such a situation would have happened in the past.

What we need to discuss is why this happened and how we can prevent this from happening again. I don't want to sound like an idealist, but 99 per cent of those who get elected to any office, do so because they believe they can make a difference in some small way, to make the world a better place. They get into it with very good intention, but the unfortunate thing is that once they get elected, some of them forget why they are there.

It is up to the public during elections to ensure they remind these folks why they are there, in a trusted and honourable profession.


Bernie Farber:

The Chief Electoral Officer was not concrete in his findings and hedged his bets. He claims there is an "apparent " contravention of the Act. This is not a finding of guilt. The fact that the OPP or any other authority has yet to lay charges is telling. Perhaps we will wait as long as the alleged gas plant scandal. If so, there is a long wait in store.

And yes Marit, it was also the first time any federal government was found in contempt of parliament, as happened to the Harper Tories. Precedence is no finding of criminal culpability.

John the problem is we read the transcripts with our own bias glasses. The Premier knew Olivier was taping the conversations and was making them publicly available. Why then would she lie if it in your view could have been so easily discovered? Why? Because she simply did not lie! She told the truth.

The tapes as I read them are not so easy to decipher in terms of time lines. If the premier claims she had already made the offer, I choose to believe her. Nothing she has done and accomplished over the last two years suggests she has lied. She has been upfront and scrupulously honest.

So where do we go from here?

I doubt there will be charges laid in the end, because "Inducement" is a focused term with exact expectations from both sides. The transcript does not bear this out.

We do, however, need perhaps some clearer guidelines going forward. And all parties must put their minds to this.  

Marit Stiles:

I'm not sure what Bernie is referring to regarding the tapes. Olivier did not record Wynne's conversation with him because he was driving — and I think we should note again here that Mr. Olivier records his conversations because, given his disability, he is unable to take notes of conversations — and he has never alleged that she directly offered him appointments or jobs. He has been quite clear that Sorbara and Lougheed did, and that it was clear to him that this message was coming from the Premier.

Truthfully, I don't care whether Wynne says she knew or didn't know. At this stage of the game, she should be doing the right thing and asking Sorbara and Lougheed to step aside.

In fact, I'd assert that Wynne's handling of the situation has been possibly as damaging to democracy and the public's perception of politics and politicians, than Sorbara and Lougheed's actions...

I want to talk for a moment about whether this is ‘how politics is done,’ because that's what Wynne and the Liberals seem to be asserting. And I have to say, if it is, it shouldn’t be, and the Liberals should know better. It’s appalling that this kind of politics is considered acceptable today. It’s no better than ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’, and it is, in part, the reason why so many Canadians are tired and turned off politics. Surely we can do better.

It was deeply disappointing to see Kathleen Wynne turn her back on what’s right, and to try to tarnish all MPPs with the same brush. Even if the charges don’t stick, the recordings point to behaviour that she should find unacceptable.

I have spent a lot of my “small p” political career working to encourage people to run. People with disabilities, women, First Nations candidates. We need to keep the doors wide open and free, and clear the way for as much political participation as possible.

The Wynne government attempted to turn someone away from running for political office and they appear to have done it by offering some kind of enticement. The Liberals’ decisions — federally and provincially — to override the local democratic process to ensure a smooth entry for their deemed ‘star’ candidates, is ugly and has divided their base. Our country deserves to have a true diversity of voices speaking up for them and fair nominations are essential.

So, let's hope for the good of our country this isn't 'business as usual'. I can assure you based on my experience it is not and the Premier should similarly be offended and take action.  

About The Salon

John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : February 18, 2015

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