SUDBURY — Tuesday in Sudbury court, on day four of the bribery trial related to the byelection scandal dating back to 2014-2015, former Laurentian University President Dominic Giroux described his role in Glenn Thibeault's decision to switch parties.
On trial are Gerry Lougheed Jr., a Liberal Party fundraiser, and Pat Sorbara, the former chair of the Grit's election campaign. They're accused of offering incentives to former candidate Andrew Olivier not to run in the byelection, and instead support Thibeault. Sorbara is also accused of offering separate inducements to Thibeault.
Speaking through a French language interpreter, Giroux said that at a lunch in Ottawa in 2013, Thibeault confided he was unhappy with his role as an MP for Sudbury for the New Democrats. Giroux asked him if he was interested in switching to provincial or municipal politics.
Thibeault responded that he was interested in provincial politics, “but if he was going to be a candidate, it wouldn't be with the NDP.”
“He was very impressed by (Premier Kathleen) Wynne as the head of the provincial party,” Giroux testified.
About 18 months after that conversation, in November 2014, Giroux received a text from Thibeault about Joe Cimino's resignation as NDP MPP for Sudbury. Giroux asked him if he knew why Cimino quit.
“He replied it was for personal reasons,” Giroux said. “I asked him if he was going to be a candidate for the provincial election, and if yes, for which party?”
Thibeault said he didn't know what his plans were.
Soon after, Girioux got a call from Pierre Cyr, a member of the Ontario Liberal Party executive council, whom Giroux knew from his past work as deputy minister at Queen's Park.
Cyr was looking to get feel of the public in Sudbury after Cimino's resignation.
In the course of the conversation, he told Cyr he knew Andrew Olivier was interested, as was Marianne Matichuk.
“Mr. Cyr asked for my personal opinion,” Giroux said. “My opinion was that Mr. Olivier was a better candidate than Ms. Matichuk.
"At the end of the conversation I said one person who could be interested would be Mr. Thibeault,” Giroux testified, basing the comment on the lunch from 18 months earlier.
That sparked a second phone call, this time with Cyr and Sorbara.
“It was clear Ms. Sorbara was very interested in the potential candidacy of Mr. Thibeault,” Giroux said.
Sorbara asked if he would speak with Thibeault, which he did.
“I urged him to think about it seriously,” Giroux said.
Thibeault was worried that if he switched and lost the byelection, he and his staff would be without a job.
Thibeault asked Giroux's opinion, and he replied that running for the Liberals would be tough, “to change not only the jurisdiction, but to also change parties.”
But knowing how unhappy Thibeault was in Ottawa, Giroux suggested it could work if he got support from Olivier and former MPP Rick Bartolucci.
“I told him to do it,” Giroux said.
He figured Thibeault had better long-term opportunities at the provincial level, and Thibeault seemed to genuinely like Wynne as leader.
The fact he was willing to meet with her “said a lot in my mind,” Giroux said.
Giroux advised Thibeault to hold out for a cabinet post, for an open nomination process and support from Olivier.
“Otherwise, what was the point” of making the switch, Giroux said.
The plan was to have Olivier, Bartolucci and Wynne all introduce Thibeault as the candidate together. There was even a plan to have Bartolucci say he always knew Thibeault was a Liberal.
However, no commitment was made to give Thibeault a cabinet post, with the premier saying there was a process in place for that to happen naturally. And on Dec. 15, 2014, Olivier went public and the entire plan was upended.
Also testifying Tuesday was Aaron St. Pierre, who was campaign manager for Olivier in the June 2014 election.
“I did a little bit of everything,” St. Pierre said.
While at first he said he didn't remember being paid, he later said that Olivier paid him directly in the months leading to the June election.
St. Pierre wasn't interviewed by investigators until 2016, and so he said his recollections of events weren't as sharp as others who had been involved from the beginning.
St. Pierre did back up Olivier's testimony, that the local Liberal riding association didn't provide much assistance.
“It was minor, I would say,” St. Pierre said. “They helped us a little bit.”
"Did you seek support from the riding association for Andrew Olivier's campaign?” asked Crown prosecutor Rick Vesca.
"Yes," St. Pierre responded, they were mostly we were looking for funds, but received just $20,000, much less than what they were looking for.
Lougheed defence lawyer Michael Lacy asked St. Pierre if he remembers having a conversation with the Ontario Liberal Party head office about their money woes, and the head office providing $50,000.
“I can't recall,” St. Pierre said, adding that it was possible. Lacy found that hard to believe.
“I don't accept that the team didn't know what was going on in the background,” he said.
Lacy also asked about efforts by Andre Bisson, the Liberal executive for Northern Ontario, to have Olivier acclaimed or appointed as candidate for the byelection. Did he know about Bisson's efforts?
“I can't recall any efforts by Mr. Bisson,” St. Pierre said.
Lacy asked him if he remembered attending a sort of boot camp for campaign managers run by the Liberals. Again, St. Pierre said he couldn't recall for certain.
“I couldn't tell you for sure,” he said.
Lacy then asked whether Olivier and his team would have accepted an appointment as the candidate.
“I can't say for sure,” St. Pierre said. Would you have advised him not to accept an appointment?
“I'm not going to speculate,” St. Pierre said. “But I was in favour of an open nomination.”
The trial resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m., when Wynne is expected to testify.