Sudbury byelection: Wynne and Thibeault won, but can they win over the OPP?

The Ontario Liberals won over the voters of Sudbury. Winning over the OPP — armed not with ballots, but with a book called the Criminal Code — will be another matter entirely.

OPP investigates series of events leading up to Thibeault's byelection victory in northern Ontario

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Liberal Glenn Thibeault embrace as they celebrate their byelection win in Sudbury on Thursday. But while the byelection is over, the alleged conduct of what led up to it is not, writes CBC's Robert Fisher. (Thomas Duncan/Canadian Press)

It is well known that Kathleen Wynne is a runner. But with this week's Sudbury byelection, the Ontario premier has also proved to be a political gambler. 

She gambled that Glenn Thibeault, a popular local NDP MP, could be a popular local Liberal MPP. She gambled that it was the right time for a provincial byelection. She was right on both. 

Wynne and Thibeault won over the voters of the northern Ontario riding, byelection results Thursday showed. But as Wynne once observed about another win (of the Liberal leadership), "that was the easy part." 

Winning over the Ontario Provincial Police — armed not with ballots, but with a book called the Criminal Code — will be another matter entirely. 

That's because while Thursday's byelection is over, the alleged conduct of what led up to it is not.

As voters headed to the polls, the OPP revealed in a document called an ITO (Information to Obtain) that while not proven in court, they believe the Liberals broke the law by offering a potential candidate in the byelection, Liberal Andrew Olivier, a job not to run. He did, as an Independent, and lost.

But he didn't go quietly, releasing two audiotapes to prove his case. 

OPP probe

The Liberals say the tapes prove only that, as Wynne has said, they wanted to keep Olivier "a member of the [Liberal] family," since he almost won the riding for them in the June general election, and that no job or appointment was offered. 

Now the OPP will determine whether that is true.  The ITO (obtained and reviewed by CBC News) says the OPP anti-rackets squad believes two Liberals "engaged in soliciting and negotiating with Andrew Olivier" — a violation of the Criminal Code. 

But, away from the ongoing police investigation, there are byelection take-aways — questions about the Liberals' ongoing commitment to Sudbury after turning the riding into 'the place to be' for the premier, her cabinet, her backbenchers and her staffers for the past several weeks. 

Thibeault himself bragged in an interview with CBC Sudbury's Morning North host Markus Schwabe that, as a Liberal MPP, he had been able to tap cabinet ministers on the shoulder to get things done for the riding and not, as he put it, "send them a paper airplane." Now, he has to make good on that. And if my political radar is accurate, he'll do it as a member of Wynne's cabinet. 

'Bridges to build'

The other take-away for him personally is the label that he is a turncoat, someone who turned his back on one political party for another. By his own admission, he's "got some bridges to build." But some people will never forgive him and he'll have to deal with that. 

There is another take-away from Thursday night's result, and it's for the NDP. 

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair lost Thibeault and that levels the playing field in the federal riding of Sudbury in the next election this spring or fall, and may foreshadow NDP fortunes in northern Ontario.

For Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, the byelection defeat is a loss of the political bragging rights that come with winning, though she found a solid candidate in Suzanne Shawbonquit and has until 2018 to recover.

So, while Thibeault will take his seat in the Ontario Legislature when it reconvenes on the Feb. 17 with the smiles of the premier and the standing ovation of his new Liberal colleagues, the aroma of this byelection will still hang in the air over Sudbury and at Queen's Park.

For a lot of people — inside and outside the process — the whole thing didn't, as they say in politics, "pass the smell test" in November, and it still doesn't.


Robert Fisher

Provincial Affairs Specialist

A commentator with decades of experience covering Queen's Park, Robert Fisher writes about politics for He is an award-winning broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience in public and private radio and television.


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