Friday, November 24, 2017

Ontario Premier Wynne testifies in court in bribery case

  • Roving Correspondent, Toronto,
    Published: 2017-09-14 03:26:42 BdST

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) embraces Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (L) as Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson (C) looks on during the Ottawa Pride Parade in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, August 27, 2017. Reuters

In an unprecedented act for a sitting premier in Ontario's recent history, the incumbent premier has testified in court in a bribery case.

Kathleen Wynne appeared before the court at 9am on Wednesday but strode past the cameras on her way into the Sudbury's courthouse.

After the sworn-in, Wynne was asked by prosecutors about her role as Liberal Leader during the 2015 by-election in Sudbury - a northern Ontario city, 275 km from Toronto.

Most local media covered the event live from outside the court house.

Pat Sorbara, formerly Wynne's deputy chief of staff, and Sudbury businessman Gerry Lougheed, Jr., the Liberal fundraiser, are charged with bribery under Ontario's Election Act. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Two organisers of the Liberal Party are on trial over accusations that they bribed a candidate to drop out of a 2015 by-election in Sudbury.

The would-be candidate, Andrew Olivier, has alleged that he was offered an appointment or job within Ontario's Liberal Party to step aside for Wynne's preferred candidate, Glenn Thibeault, a sitting MP for the federal New Democrats.

Wynne appointed Thibeault, who went on to win the by-election and is now Ontario's Energy Minister.

The premier, who waived her parliamentary immunity, told the court that there was "disarray" in the local riding and that party brass did not think that Olivier was the best candidate to win the by-election – only a year earlier he had lost the general election vote in the riding. Sudbury had been a Liberal fortress for decades.

"He seemed like a fine young man," Wynne told the media of meeting Olivier during the 2014 campaign. "I thought we had a good chance of winning the election."

The premier also said she was not aware of such discussion of making promises during the selection process.

The case so far has largely revolved around a number of recordings of conversations between Olivier and the two Liberal organisers. Olivier is quadriplegic and told the court that he records important conversations because of his difficulty taking notes.

In the conversations, Lougheed is heard telling Olivier that "the Premier wanted to present him with appointments or jobs if he would consider stepping aside."  Sorbara told him that "he could express interest in a position within the party, including one of the party's internal commissions."

Olivier has told the court that he was never offered money.