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Inside Queen's Park: Clouds hanging over premier’s office as police probes languish

Criminal charges against Sudbury, Ont., Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed Jr. have again stoked controversies and chatter around Queen’s Park and brought back the focus on two other long-running Ontario Provincial Police probes into government affairs.

The latest police investigation came after Liberals asked candidate Andrew Olivier to step aside in order for a preferred candidate, former federal MP Glenn Thibeault, to run in February’s byelection in Sudbury.

Thibeault went on to win the seat for the Liberals.

The twist was that Olivier, who uses a wheelchair and has limited dexterity, records his calls and released the conversations with Lougheed and Premier Kathleen Wynne’s deputy chief of staff, Pat Sorbara, urging him to step aside. In those conversations, it appeared they were speaking for the premier and at several points, Lougheed appears to suggest there are other appointments available to Olivier if he wants to continue his involvement in local politics.

The transcripts were widely available online and the charges laid by the OPP are the result of that evidence and presumably interviews with the parties involved.

The charges include counselling an offence not committed under s. 464 of the Criminal Code and unlawfully influencing or negotiating appointments.

The latter falls under s. 125 that deals with anyone who “receives, agrees to receive, gives or procures to be given, directly or indirectly, a reward, advantage or benefit of any kind as consideration for cooperation, assistance or exercise of influence to secure the appointment of any person to an office or (b) solicits, recommends or negotiates in any manner with respect to an appointment to or resignation from an office, in expectation of a direct or indirect reward, advantage or benefit.”

The full force of the law is a prison term not exceeding five years.

With the charges stopping at Lougheed, the situation leaves room for Wynne to claim plausible deniability and she certainly seemed happy to learn police wouldn’t be charging Sorbara, something that would have brought the scandal closer to her own doorstep. “I never believed my staff did anything wrong,” she told reporters.

“Of course, it’s a serious situation and we’ve taken it seriously.”

Politically, then, there’s a wall for the moment around the incident. Certainly, the Liberals would like to see Lougheed take the fall for the good of the party, although he says he’s going to vigorously defend himself and a trial could cast a welcome light on the inner workings of the Wynne’s office.

The question is who directed the campaign to get Olivier to back away and how much latitude and instruction did they give in terms of a quid pro quo?

The irony, of course, is everyone knows this is how the parties play the game. But while no one usually notices, the tape tells the story in this case.

The situation is also a reminder of the other police investigations faced by the government. In December, it will have been a year since the OPP raided Ontario government offices to seize evidence in relation to the cancellation of two natural gas plants prior to the 2011 election. In February, police went to court to get access to e-mails between former premier Dalton McGuinty and his chief of staff, David Livingston. It was the third search warrant in the case.

At issue is whether a third-party contractor brought in by Livingston received a password to access hard drives and erase an electronic paper trail connected to the decision around the plants.

The investigation seems to be taking a long time. While digital forensic cases are extremely complex, news from that investigation has all but dried up. We’re still waiting for the outcome just as we’re waiting for the results of the allegations around Ornge air ambulance. The Toronto Star’s dogged pursuit of the story uncovered some questionable dealings in relation to a $4.7-million payment to Ornge founder Dr. Chris Mazza from an Italian company that supplied 12 helicopters to the service.

Eighteen months ago, those investigations were to wrap up in “a few months,” but the Star subsequently reported on diplomatic issues with getting OPP detectives cleared by the federal government to go to Italy to interview company executives.

Last week, the OPP line was that the investigation is continuing, something that hardly inspires confidence because the matter has dragged on since early 2012.

While the officers themselves are professional in their duties, it’s hard not to feel that an arm’s-length relationship with an outside agency investigating the matter would be more politically correct.   


Ian Harvey has been a journalist for more than 35 years writing about a diverse range of issues including legal and political affairs. His e-mail address is ianharvey@rogers.com.


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