SUDBURY, Ont.—Lawyers seeking an acquittal for two Ontario Liberals facing bribery charges under the Election Act argue their clients did nothing illegal because the law doesn’t apply to the internal party nomination process.
The lawyers representing the pair filed written arguments Sept. 30 in a directed verdict application that calls on the judge to toss the case before the defence has even called any witnesses.
The two Liberals on trial are accused of offering would-be candidate Andrew Olivier a job or appointment to step aside for Premier Kathleen Wynne’s preferred candidate in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury —Glenn Thibeault, who was then the NDP MP.
Pat Sorbara, who was Wynne’s deputy chief of staff and Liberal campaign director, and local Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed have pleaded not guilty.
Their lawyers will argue that what is at issue in this case is the internal Liberal party process, which is not governed by the Election Act.
“The value of neutrality, which lies at the core of fair and transparent public elections, does not play the same role in the nomination process of political parties,” Michael Lacy and Brian Greenspan write. “Political parties select candidates for political purposes.”
The definition of candidate in the Election Act suggests someone can’t be a candidate for the purposes of that law until an election writ has been issued. Sorbara and Lougheed spoke to Olivier roughly a month before the byelection was called.
Lougheed, in a recorded conversation, told Olivier he was there on behalf of the premier to ask him to consider stepping aside for Thibeault and “in the course of that deliberation” he should consider “options in terms of appointments, jobs, whatever.”
Sorbara told Olivier they should have a broad discussion about what he would be interested in, be it a constituency office job, appointments to boards or commissions or a position on the party executive.
But a nomination race is not an “election” under the Election Act, nor does declaring interest in candidacy make someone a candidate, the lawyers argue, so even if inducements are made not to run in a nomination race, that’s not covered by the act.
“There is no prohibition on offering inducements not to participate in an internal party nomination process,” they argue.
Sorbara also faces a second charge, alleging that she bribed Thibeault to become the candidate by arranging for paid jobs on the byelection campaign for two of his constituency staff.
That charge appears to rely solely on Thibeault asking Sorbara if paid campaign jobs were a possibility, while he was considering whether to run for the Liberals, and Sorbara replying that it was “doable,” her lawyer argues.
A factual response to a potential candidate is not an inducement and Sorbara made no promise to provide paid positions for Thibeault’s staff under after he decided to become the candidate, Greenspan writes.
The Crown has not yet filed its written arguments, but both sides are set to make their case to a judge in Sudbury on Oct. 10.