The Sudbury byelection scandal: what you need to know before the trial

The bribery trial for two prominent Liberals charged in the Sudbury byelection scandal gets underway this week. One of the unusual things about this trial is the public has already heard one of the key pieces of evidence.

Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara face bribery charges under the Election Act

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

After three years of debates on Facebook and in the coffee shops and barrooms of Greater Sudbury, the byelection scandal moves from the court of public opinion to a court of law this week.

Gerry Lougheed and Pat Sorbara will go on trial Thursday to face bribery charges under the Election Act.

But one very unusual thing about this trial, is that thousands of Sudburians have already heard one of the main pieces of evidence: the taped conversations where Lougheed and Sorbara tell former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier about the opportunities that might be opened to him if he steps aside for Glenn Thibeault.

"Oh, I suspect many of us have listened to the tape more than once," says Sudbury political blogger Steve May.

"Essentially what the tapes did was give us a view of backroom politics."

'I think it's very serious'

The Liberal government has repeatedly said that these sorts of conversations and deals happen in parties of all stripes, which doesn't sit well with Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick.

"Even though we may say 'Oh well, that's politics. I think it's very disappointing that the government and others are so blase about this. I think it's very serious."

But Tabachnick isn't sure that the trial or its verdict will have much impact on the political fortunes of the Liberals, Thibeault or anyone else. 

"I think damage has been done. How much people actually care about this seems rather mixed. How close are people actually paying attention?"

Timeline: The Sudbury byelection scandal

It's been dragging on for three years now, but with the Sudbury byelection bribery trial about to get started, CBC reporter Erik White decided to put together this audio re-cap of how we got here. 9:02
Joe Cimino celebrating his win in June 2014 to become the new MPP for Sudbury. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

  • Nov. 20, 2014: Sudbury New Democrat MPP Joe Cimino resigns after just five months on the job,citing "personal health wellness."
  • Nov. 26: Sudbury Liberal riding association agrees to hold nomination meeting to select byelection candidate.
  • Nov. 30: Premier Kathleen Wynne meets with NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who agrees to run for the provincial Liberals. Wynne has said she decided at that meeting to appoint him.
  • Dec. 11: Prominent Sudbury Liberal Gerry Lougheed visits Andrew Olivier, the failed Liberal candidate in the 2014 provincial election who was seeking to run again. Lougheed asks Olivier to consider stepping aside to nominate Thibeault and tells Olivier "in the course of that deliberation" to consider "appointments, jobs, whatever."
Former Sudbury Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)
  • Dec. 11: Wynne phones Olivier, who is quadriplegic and tapes conversations as his way of taking notes. He says technical difficulties prevent him from recording that exchange.
  • Dec. 12: Pat Sorbara, Wynne's deputy chief of staff, phones Olivier and says Wynne is "going to have to make a decision around the appointment," later telling him they should chat about what he would be interested in doing, be it "appointments to boards or commissions," a constituency office job or role in the party executive.
  • Dec. 15: Olivier goes public with claims that Lougheed and Sorbara offered him a job or appointment to step aside; Progressive Conservatives ask Ontario Provincial Police to investigate; New Democrats ask Elections Ontario to investigate.
Prominent Sudbury businessman and Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed. (Radio-Canada)
  • Dec. 16: Thibeault publicly announces he will be the Ontario Liberals' byelection candidate.
  • Jan. 7, 2015: Wynne calls Sudbury byelection for Feb. 5; sends letter to riding association president and nomination commissioner informing them of Thibeault's appointment.
  • Jan. 12: OPP conclude no criminal offence was committed by the Liberals.
  • Jan. 15: Olivier releases audio of his conversations with Lougheed and Sorbara; Progressive Conservatives ask OPP to reopen the investigation.
Liberal candidate Glenn Thibeault is seen celebrating his byelection win on Feb. 5, 2015, in Sudbury. (Thomas Duncan/Canadian Press)
  • Feb. 5: Thibeault wins Sudbury byelection; in a court document filed in order to get Olivier's original recordings, police say they have "grounds to believe" a criminal offence was committed. The investigation continues.
  • Feb. 19: Elections Ontario makes "unprecedented finding" that Lougheed and Sorbara's actions were in "apparent contravention" of the Election Act; matter is referred to OPP and federal Crown.
  • April 29: Wynne is interviewed by the OPP.
  • Sept. 24: Criminal charges of counselling an offence not committed and unlawfully influencing or negotiating appointments are laid against Lougheed.
Gerry Lougheed's lawyer Michael Lacy.
  • April 27, 2016: Lougheed's criminal charges are stayed, OPP turn focus to Election Act investigation.
  • June 13: Thibeault is promoted from backbencher to energy minister as part of a large cabinet shuffle.
  • Oct. 3: Sorbara takes a leave of absence from her deputy chief of staff job to become the Ontario Liberal Party's CEO and 2018 campaign director.
  • Nov. 1: Sorbara is charged with two bribery counts under the Election Act, Lougheed is charged with one. Sorbara resigns her Liberal party posts.
  • Nov. 21: Federal prosecutor Vern Brewer tells reporters that Thibeault "sought certain benefits, offers, jobs or employment as part of his condition to run as an MPP" prompting opposition parties to call for his resignation.
Vern Brewer is a federal crown prosecutor. (Erik White/CBC )
  • Nov. 23: a tearful Thibeault tells reporters that the allegations have been hard on his family. The opposition accuses him of "crocodile tears."
  • Dec. 21: The federal prosecutor's office clarifies that the comments were never meant to suggest that Thibeault "acted corruptly."
  • Sept. 7, 2017: Lougheed and Sorbara are scheduled to go on trial in Sudbury. 

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury, Ont. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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