Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne testified in a Sudbury, Ont., court Wednesday that in December 2014 she knew one of her top advisers and a party fundraiser were meeting with Andrew Olivier to see how to keep him in "the Liberal family." 

She appeared on Day 5 of the trial of two high-ranking Liberals charged with bribing potential candidates ahead of 2015 byelection.

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.

They are accused of offering a job to would-be candidate Olivier to withdraw his Liberal candidacy in a 2015 byelection. Party brass wanted Olivier to make room for Glenn Thibeault, who defected from the federal NDP, won the byelection for the Liberals, and is now the province's energy minister.

Sorbara is charged with a second count of bribery, accused of offering Thibeault incentives to become a candidate.

​Olivier was the Liberal candidate in the 2014 election, losing by just over 1,000 votes to NDP candidate Joe Cimino.

Cimino resigned shortly after the win, citing personal reasons, which prompted the byelection.

Recorded conversations

Conversations with Sorbara and Lougheed —  recorded by Olivier — were publicly released three years ago and form the basis of the bribery charges for which Lougheed and Sorbara are on trial now.

Olivier, a quadriplegic, records his phone calls to assist with note-taking.

Wynne also spoke with Olivier, although that chat was not recorded.

"He hadn't been a great candidate, but we wanted to keep him involved," Wynne said, recalling how Olivier's comments during the 2014 election campaign that Catholic school boards should merge with public ones was "antithetical" to party policy.

"There were many ways to be involved in the Liberal family," Wynne said, but all of those jobs and positions would still involve Olivier going through an application process of some sort.

Awkward, circular conversation

Wynne described the Dec. 11, 2014, phone call with Olivier as "circular" and "awkward" and said "he was not forthcoming."

Four days later, Olivier held a news conference revealing that he was being pushed aside for a star Liberal candidate.

Wynne told the court that Thibeault was one of several potential Sudbury candidates for the byelection.

She testified she "didn't know anything about" Thibeault when she heard he might defect, but thought it was an "intriguing" idea to have Sudbury's New Democrat MP jump ship to her party.

Sudbury Byelection

Newly elected Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault hugs Premier Kathleen Wynne on the night of the 2015 byelection. (Thomas Duncan/Canadian Press)

They met Nov. 30, 2014, at Wynne's home, 10 days after NDP member of the legislature Joe Cimino announced his resignation.

"I felt Glenn and I had connected," Wynne told the court. "We liked each other. I liked the approach he was taking. He seemed like a sincere and smart man.

"I was optimistic that people would see Glenn as such a strong candidate, that we'd be able to unify the Liberals" in Sudbury, which Wynne said was her primary concern.

The premier testified she wasn't involved in specific discussions about Thibeault's conditions for becoming a Liberal.

She said that campaign director Pat Sorbara handled that.

It's the alleged promise of paid positions for Thibeault staffers Darrell Marsh and Brian Band that the Crown argues constitutes a bribe under the Election Act, for which Sorbara is charged. 

Who's who in the byelection bribery trial

The accused:

  • Former Liberal Party CEO Pat Sorbara
  • Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed Jr., a Sudbury businessman.

Judge: Howard Borenstein, from Toronto

Prosecutors: David McKercher, Vern Brewer and Rick Visca

Defence lawyers: Michael Lacy for Lougheed, Brian Greenspan and Erin Dann for Sorbara

Witnesses to be called by the Crown (in anticipated order):

  • Andrew Olivier: 2014 Ontario Liberal candidate, who accused the party of bribing him to stand aside in the 2015 byelection for star candidate and now Sudbury MPP and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.
  • Simon Tunstall, chief executive officer of the Ontario Liberal party 2012 to 2015.
  • Aaron St. Pierre, Olivier's campaign manager.
  • Rick Bartolucci, former Sudbury MPP and cabinet minister.
  • Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario.
  • William Nurmi, then president of the Sudbury provincial Liberal riding association.
  • Dominic Giroux, then president of Laurentian University, incoming president of Health Sciences North.
  • Andre Bisson, then vice-president of Sudbury provincial Liberal riding association.
  • Darrell Marsh, who worked in Thibeault's NDP MP constituency office, then moved to Liberals with him.
  • Brian Band, who worked in Thibeault's NDP MP constituency office, then moved to Liberals with him.
  • Marianne Matichuk, former Greater Sudbury mayor, who was interested in running for Ontario Liberals.
  • Vince Borg, past president of the Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Kim Donaldson, nomination commissioner for Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Azam Ishmael, executive director Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Neil Downs, director of the public appointments secretariat for government of Ontario.
  • Shelley Potter, deputy chief of staff to premier of Ontario.
  • Glenn Thibeault, former NDP MP for Sudbury, now Sudbury Liberal MPP and energy minister.

Corrections

  • In an earlier version of this story, Pat Sorbara was incorrectly identified as a Sudbury businessman. Sorbara is a former Liberal Party CEO.
    Sep 13, 2017 4:35 PM ET