Sudbury byelection trial: Local Liberals 'very angry' at Thibeault's appointment

Day three of the Sudbury byelection bribery trial focused on the inner workings of the Ontario Liberal Party and how it planned to take back the Sudbury seat in 2015.

Liberals Pat Sorbara and Gerry Lougheed accused of bribing potential candidates ahead of 2015 byelection

Former Liberal Party CEO Pat Sorbara passes the media on her way to court in Sudbury to stand trial on bribery charges. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Bill Nurmi told a Sudbury court, where two members of his own party are standing trial for bribery, that he is a big believer in democracy.

The retired Campbell Soup employee, who was the president of the Sudbury provincial Liberal riding association from 1996 to 2015, talked about how he vigorously fought against the rumours that the central party was looking to appoint a candidate in 2014 instead of having an open race. 

And then it happened in the lead up to the key 2015 Sudbury byelection.

"We were angry," Nurmi told the court.

"We had nothing against [Glenn] Thibeault. We had everything against the process."

Nurmi told the court that he was invited to introduce Thibeault as the candidate along with Premier Wynne, but he refused. Although, he was clear that the riding association gave $50,000 to the campaign and offered to help any way it could.

Former Sudbury Liberal riding association president Bill Nurmi leaves court after testifying Monday. (Yvon Theriault/radio-canada)

Nurmi also spoke about the 2014 election, during which, former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier testified last week, that outcoming MPP Rick Bartolucci and his supporters tried to "sabotage" the Liberal campaign to hold onto the seat.

Nurmi, who joined the party when Bartolucci first ran provincially in 1995 and was riding association president from 1996 to 2015, says every day, Bartolucci and others went to Olivier's office offering their help.

"And every day it was refused," Nurmi told the court.

"We didn't feel we were part of his campaign."

Nurmi also said that most of the provincial riding association was against having former Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk as the Liberal candidate, partly because the party was looking at appointing her and partly because "we would have preferred not to have her."

Simon Tunstall was executive director of the Ontario Liberal Party from 2012 to 2015. (Twitter)

For Simon Tunstall, Glenn Thibeault didn't seem like a star candidate when he first heard he would carry the Liberal banner into the crucial 2015 Sudbury byelection.

"I had to look up who he was," the former Liberal Party executive director testified in a Sudbury court Monday.

Tunstall was the second witness at a bribery trial for former Liberal CEO and campaign director Pat Sorbara and prominent Sudbury businessman Gerry Lougheed, both accused of bribing candidates heading into that 2015 campaign.

When Sudbury New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino quit suddenly just a few months after the general election, Tunstall wrote to party officials, including Sorbara, suggesting that 2014 candidate Andrew Olivier should run in the byelection as well.

"I think the backlash in Sudbury would be significant. And it would so significant that we'd almost certainly lose," Tunstall told the court.

"I actually believed we were going to lose regardless." 

Sudbury MPP Glenn Thibeault with his former staffer Brian Band. (Twitter)

Tunstall wrote that a long nomination race would likely just "waste time" and be more harm than good for the party, especially since Olivier had signed up a sizeable number of party members and would be tough to beat in a nomination race.

"If we have a candidate who we think is significantly better than Andrew, we should convince Andrew to withdraw or help that candidate sign up enough people to win in a contested meeting," Tunstall wrote Sorbara on Nov. 23, 2014.

Tunstall's email also suggests that the Liberal government set the date for the byelection based on the party's chances of taking back the seat it had held since 1995.

"In regards to timing, I'd go for whatever gives us the best chance to win," Tunstall wrote.

Standing in the witness box and being asked repeatedly to recall details from three years ago, Tunstall said generally that: "Everybody looks back on their own behaviour as being more flattering than it probably is."

Sorbara's lawyer Brian Greenspan also questioned Tunstall about an e-mail detailing "consultant fees" to be paid to Brian Band and Darrell Marsh, two staffers from Thibeault's NDP constituency office who were getting paid to work on his byelection campaign to become a Liberal MPP.

Tunstall said it's not unusual for the party to pay campaign workers for various reasons, including replacing salary from their regular job they might lose while working on the campaign.

He said that he never met Band and Marsh, who until recently worked in Thibeault's Sudbury constituency office, and "were not staff" during the election campaign.

This is key, because the crown is alleging that paid jobs for Marsh and Band, which Thibeault made a condition for his joining the Ontario Liberals, constitutes a bribe when Sorbara offered it to the now Sudbury MPP and energy minister.

Who's who in the byelection bribery trial

The accused: former Liberal Party CEO Pat Sorbara, prominent Sudbury businessman and Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed Jr.

Judge: Justice Howard Borenstein, from Toronto

Prosecutors: David McKercher, Vern Brewer and Rick Visca

Defence lawyers: Michael Lacy for Lougheed, Brian Greenspan 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, worked in Thibeault's NDP MP constituency office, then moved to Liberals with him
  • Brian Band, 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 at 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