• By: Dan Donovan

Corruption by Any Other Name

 “Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.”
? John Steinbeck

If Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s four hours of testimony in the bribery trial of two high-ranking Liberals in a Sudbury courtroom proves anything, it is that she and her Liberal government have lost all moral authority and credibility to run this province. If Wynne and her cabal of crooks are not voted out next year, then Ontarians will have no one to blame but themselves.  

At this point, supporting Wynne and her Liberal government is the same as saying yes to corruption, yes to sleaze, yes to the politics of toxicity and alienation, and yes to a Premier who, when faced with making a key moral decision about sticking up and supporting a credible and loyal candidate with a serious disability and having their back versus tossing them aside for political considerations and power, chose power.  In making that decision, the Premier and her caucus showed very clearly that for them, power trumps everything. Today, one in seven people (1.85 million) in Ontario have a disability (over 15%), including more than 40% of people over age 65. The Premier’s treatment of Andrew Olivier revealed her government’s true attitude towards persons with disabilities: get off the bus or go to the back of it because we don’t want you if it interferes with our agenda.

The corruption trial now playing out is of Wynne’s own making.  Pat Sorbara, her former deputy chief of staff and campaign director, and Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal party fundraiser, have been charged under the Ontario Elections Act for offering “incentives” to Andrew Olivier to drop out of the race so that Glenn Thibeault could run instead. The plan, hatched by Wynne and her cohorts, was that Thibeault would defect from the federal NDP caucus to run for the provincial liberals. Olivier was the candidate for the provincial Liberals in the June 2014 general election, losing by less than a thousand votes to the NDP’s Joe Cimino.  

Cimino decided only 6 months into the job to quit the post leaving the riding in limbo and setting the stage for Olivier to run again and probably win. A date was set for a February 2015 by-election. Olivier had the backing of the riding liberals until the Premier intervened with her “Thibeault plan”. That Olivier came so close to winning in the general election was an exceptional achievement in and of itself because he is a quadriplegic.

On the stand Wynne testified that she “just wanted to keep Andrew Olivier in the 'family' after she said she had found a better choice to run in the 2015 by-election”.  The “choice” she was apparently so impressed with was Glenn Thibeault, a social worker before he was elected as the federal MP for Sudbury in 2008. When compared to Andrew Olivier, it is very hard to imagine why Wynne was impressed with him. By contrast, Olivier’s life story and resilience is inspiring and something to behold. However, this had nothing to do with better choices. It was about politics and power.

When this was happening in January 2015, I had lunch with two Liberal MPPs where I raised the issue. I asked them both why they and others in the Liberal caucus had not spoken up for Olivier. I questioned the moral compass of a Premier who would treat a person with such a serious disability this way or a caucus who would go along with it. Especially when the candidate had almost won,   was loyal and deserving of another shot. They both brushed off Olivier and the disability issue saying that Wynne and her staff “are more savvy than us about these things and they know how to handle them. It’s really not our place to intervene or question their strategy. People know we care about the disabled.”

They went on to say that “the Premiers staff has tried to talk to Olivier about the bigger picture and bigger issues, but he doesn’t want to listen. He is only thinking about himself.” Their arrogance and patronizing remarks were troubling to me. They went on to wax  eloquent about how they were sticking it to the federal NDP by getting Thibeault to quit the party and betray Mulcair and the NDP months before a federal election (apparently he didn’t get along with Mulcair). They said having Thibeault run for the Liberals provincially would hurt the federal NDP and hopefully help the Trudeau Liberals and “besides we can work with Thibeault and the plan is to make him the Minister for Northern Ontario.”

This basically is what played out, although the controversy and then charges caused a delay of over a year before Thibeault was finally put in cabinet. Wynne glossed over all this in her testimony yesterday, saying she did not want Olivier to run because he “had not been as strong a candidate as I had thought”. When pressed for more details about a conversation she had with Olivier about the by-election, Wynne retorted with “I don’t recall the specifics of the conversation”.  Wynne also testified that she never told Sobara to offer Olivier bribes to step aside. However, the taped conversations of Sorbara’s discussions with Oliver indicate she did exactly that, apparently at the request of the Premier. Sorbara has also pleaded not guilty to a second charge that, to get Thibeault, she allegedly offered paid positions to two of his former NDP riding staff. When asked about Sorbara, Wynne said she’d known of her “excellent reputation” for years and after she joined their campaign in 2014, they spoke daily.  

Wynne testified that when she learned that Thibeault was interested in switching parties, she was intrigued. “I thought it was something we should explore. She denied ever being asked to promise him a cabinet position. That would be “antithetical to how I would want to proceed,” she said.

"We didn’t have a candidate and didn’t have a prospective candidate that was strong."

Both those statements are, of course, false. Wynne testified that when Thibeault agreed to run, she had Lougheed tell Olivier that he wouldn’t be running. She said that she called Olivier later because it was “the decent thing to do”.

And therein lies the problem. That is by far not the decent thing to do. The decent thing to do was to not toss the qualified disabled person off the bus to enhance your own power and bring in a carpet bagger from another party to replace him. Wynne described her conversation with Oliver as “awkward".  Really? Ya think? Things are usually awkward when you do something reprehensible. 

After testifying, Wynne refused to take any questions from reporters apparently because she has said all she is going to say about the matter.  In nine months disabled people in Ontario along with the rest of us will have a chance to express what we have to say in this matter. All would do well in the election next June to remember the famous adage by Thomas Jefferson that “the government you elect is the government you deserve.”