TORONTO – Ontario’s deputy premier said Monday she is “absolutely convinced” the Liberals did nothing criminal in behind-the-scenes talks leading up to a recent byelection.
But Deb Matthews admitted she hasn’t listened to audio recordings that are central to the corruption allegations now under a criminal police investigation.
The Ontario Provincial Police are investigating allegations that Liberal officials offered their Sudbury, Ont., candidate from the June election a job or appointment late last year in exchange for not running in last Thursday’s byelection.
Premier Kathleen Wynne appointed former NDP MP Glenn Thibeault, who won the byelection, instead of holding a nomination.
The spurned candidate, Andrew Olivier, is quadriplegic and records many conversations because he can’t take notes, so he has put the audio of his talks with two Liberals – including Pat Sorbara, the premier’s deputy chief of staff – online, saying they back up his claims.
Wynne’s office said Monday the premier and Sorbara will meet with OPP investigators.
Matthews said she is confident the allegations are false.
“I am absolutely convinced that there was no breach,” she said. “I have not listened to the tapes. But I’ve seen enough.”
The Liberals’ byelection win shows that the people of Sudbury decided that the party’s “positive message” outweighed the opposition’s “negative message,” Matthews said.
Progressive Conservative house leader Steve Clark said the Liberals “gave up their integrity” to win the Sudbury seat.
“Anybody who listens to those tapes hears the discussion and the offer,” he said.
Media reports said provincial police believe two Liberals broke the law, according to a police document sworn before a judge to get a production order for evidence. The police allegations have not been tested in court, and no charges have been laid.
The premier will not be asking Sorbara to leave her post, a spokeswoman has said. Wynne has maintained no specific offer was made to Olivier, saying they were trying to keep him active in the party after Thibeault’s appointment was already decided.
NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said that’s a “Liberal spin.”
“It’s pretty clear when you listen to the tape and you read the transcript … (Sorbara) is trying to sound out what it is (Olivier) would be interested in,” Bisson said. “She’s very categorical in what she’s doing.”
Elections Ontario is also investigating the Liberals’ alleged actions, which the opposition parties say amount to bribery.
Matthews, also the president of the treasury board, said the OPP investigation in no way affects bargaining with the force, which began this month.
It is one of many major public-sector unions currently in bargaining as Ontario seeks “net zero” wage increases. Matthews said in a speech Monday that offsetting any wage increases will be one of the ways Ontario plans to eliminate its $12.5-billion deficit by 2017-18.
Matthews also spoke of “maximizing government assets” and a line-by-line review of program spending, though she vowed there will be no “across the board cuts.”
She would not say if public sector job cuts are looming.
© 2015 The Canadian Press