“Premier . . . if charges are laid, will you step aside?”

By MPP Toby Barrett

Last week I waded into the Queen’s Park furor surrounding alleged bribery in the Sudbury by-election.

During Question Period, I asked the Premier why she had not removed her deputy chief of staff Pat Sorbara, who is accused of bribery, and backroom operative Gerry Lougheed Jr., who was also involved in the alleged bribery.

As I outlined to the House, “Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer was very clear that he believed there was an apparent contravention of the bribery statute contained within the Election Act. It’s illegal to grant government jobs or other positions as a favour.”

The premier responded that an investigation is taking place outside the Legislature. My supplemental question began, “Justice is blind; no one is beyond it. Our rule of law is based on a set of strict principles to which we, as a society, all agree. Our rule of law is not arbitrary. Our rule of law is not subject to financial influence.
I then charged, “You, your friends and your hired operatives believe you are above the law. The fact is, if you break the law, you pay the price. Premier, for the good of all concerned, and if charges are laid, will you step aside?”
Ms. Wynne did not answer my second question and referred it to the Minister of Community Safety.

To provide some background, before last month’s Sudbury by-election, Andrew Olivier, was told he would no longer be the candidate and would be replaced by Glenn Thibeault, the riding’s federal MP for the NDP. Olivier alleged that he was offered a job by Lougheed and Sorbara. Olivier produced recordings of those conversations.

As well last week, Opposition leader Jim Wilson moved that, “it is the opinion of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario that the said actions of the Premier, her Deputy Chief of Staff and Gerry Lougheed Jr. have breached the standards of integrity and accountability that are required and expected of the Office of the Premier.”

Section 96.1 (e) of the Elections Act states: No person shall directly, or indirectly,
(e) give, procure or promise or agree to procure an office or employment to induce a person to become a candidate, refrain from becoming a candidate or withdraw his or her candidacy.

So what is different here? Why aren’t there resignations, or at least the individuals involved temporarily stepping down in connection with the Sudbury by-election?

This is not politics, it is – or at least was – a principle enshrined in our system of responsible government that those with power step aside while investigation is underway.

There have been examples over the years. Interim Opposition Leader Jim Wilson stepped aside in 1996 when an investigation was underway by the Information and Privacy commissioner into a staffer who had disclosed confidential health records. Former colleagues Bob Runciman and Steve Gilchrist also temporarily stepped down, while other investigations were underway – and I thank them for upholding responsible government. There are also examples in the present governing party. Greg Sorbara, Mike Colle and David Caplan come to mind as cabinet ministers who all resigned during investigations.

This present government is now subject to four OPP investigations into alleged criminal activity.

Again, if charges are laid related to the by-election, I feel Premier Wynne should, for the good of all concerned, step aside.