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MacDonald: Lots of reasons to be mad at the Liberals, but the Olivier case isn't one

Trial was a waste of taxpayer's money from the start
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In the aftermath of the byelection bribery trial, political affairs reporter Darren MacDonald argues there are plenty of reasons to be angry with the Ontario Liberal Party, but to suggest the bribery trial case was fixed doesn't pass the smell test. (File)

There are plenty of good reasons to be mad at the provincial Liberal government.

In fact, Auditor Bonnie Lysyk provided one last week – the plan to lower our hydro bills is going to cost us as much as $4 billion extra because of a complex accounting scheme that allows the Liberals to hide costs and claim they are balancing the books.

Outrageous! It really, really is.

But anyone who has been paying attention to the Sudbury bribery case with something close to an open mind will tell you that dog wasn't going to bark no matter what the Crown did.

Reporters covering the trial – some from right-wing media that are no friend to Kathleen Wynne and the gang – kept waiting for a smoking gun. Some sort of new information that would justify an expensive Crown prosecution and expensive defence.

It never came.

The Crown's argument that Olivier was a candidate was difficult to understand from the start. Some members of the public think political parties have to elect their candidates openly from whomever wants to run and can sell memberships. Not true, and there are good reasons for it.

Parties have political platforms and they have to be able to control who is carrying their banner in each riding.

Anti-abortion, anti-immigrant or corrupt candidates could sell tons of memberships and suddenly be running for a party whose policies are directly opposite. Tory Leader Patrick Brown is finding that out now, as he combats considerable resistance as he seeks moderate Conservative candidates to move the party to the political centre.

So parties can pick and choose their candidates. In late 2014, Kathleen Wynne picked Glenn Thibeault. In what Justice Howard Borenstein described as a “hail Mary pass,” Andrew Olivier went public with his conversations with Gerry Lougheed Jr. and Patricia Sorbara, in hopes of pressuring Wynne into allowing an open nomination, one that Olivier would have mostly likely won.

Whatever Olivier intended, once the information was public, it became a different matter entirely. What was a local struggle for a nomination became a provincial news story about bribery. But with such short timelines leading up to the February 2015 byelection, there was never going to be an open nomination.

In fact, there was talk that emerged during the trial of Olivier being appointed as the candidate — until the so-called "unicorn" appeared.

The Liberals were overjoyed that Thibeault was willing to run for them, and the only issue was finding a way to put up the united front political parties like to have heading into an election.

Olivier was the obstacle to that image of the happy Liberal family. Getting him to back Thibeault's acclamation was the priority and, well, we know how that turned out.

It became clear as the trial progressed the priority was to make Olivier happy enough to back Thibeault, not to entice him to withdraw or back out. Thibeault was in, no matter what.

And for the extra bribery charge Sorbara faced? Thibeault asked about income replacement, and about whether he would be able to offer two loyal staffers paid campaign jobs.

Does it make any sense that stipends for campaign work would be enough to induce Thibeault to leave a cushy job on the NDP benches to enter an election race where nothing was guaranteed? All of them stood to lose guaranteed money. Don't bribes usually make you richer?

Already, media website blogs are full of people saying Borenstein is a Liberal, the fix was in, yada, yada, yada. What people should be upset about is why so much money was wasted on what was obviously such a flimsy case. And if Lougheed goes for court costs and lawyer fees, the bill will rise substantially.

There are many, many reasons to be mad at the Liberals. You can make a strong argument they have a habit of using taxpayer's money to benefit them, not taxpayers. The hydro shenanigans, gas plants, Ornge, eHealth — take your pick.

But you should also be angry that our justice system wasted hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars prosecuting a doomed case that was a farce from the beginning. 
 
Darren MacDonald covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.



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