Former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier made a very public withdrawal from the nomination race Monday at the Plaza Hotel in Sudbury.
Olivier revealed he was pressured to quietly quit the race and to support an unnamed candidate favoured by the party's Toronto headquarters.
He said well-known Liberal Gerry Lougheed Jr. met with him Thursday to discuss standing aside in favour of an unnamed candidate who would be appointed. More calls followed, including from Wynne and Pat Sorbara, a campaign strategist who helped craft the Liberals' stunning victory in the June election.
Olivier said he was asked to withdraw from the race and publicly support another candidate who would be appointed to run. In exchange, he would receive a government job.
“I told them I already have a job,” he told reporters gathered at his news conference Monday, surrounded by family and friends as he spoke. “They said they had a vision for the riding, and it didn't include me as the candidate.”
Olivier said the Liberal Party wanted to bypass the normal nomination process and appoint a candidate. There was speculation last spring that former Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk was interested in the nomination. But Matichuk confirmed Monday she is not the unnamed candidate to which Olivier was referring.
“It's not me,” she said flatly, adding she is not considering the nomination.
Calls to Lougheed and Wynne on Monday were not immediately returned. For his part, Olivier stressed the executive of the Sudbury Liberal riding association backed an open nomination process, but were overruled by the Ontario party. When asked why he was making a public statement on the matter, Olivier said he's committed to openness and transparency as a matter of principle.
“Sometimes sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said. “I need to shine a light on everyone, for everyone … I will not be bullied. I will not be bought.”
At this point, he said he won't consider running for the Liberals this time “even if they change their mind” about appointing a candidate.
“The Ontario Liberal Party told me I would not be the candidate, and it was out of my hands, and out of the hands of the people of Sudbury,” he said. “This is not Sudbury decision. This is clearly what Toronto thinks is best for Sudbury.”
Olivier said his physical limitations – he's a paraplegic as a result of a hockey injury as a youth – has meant he has had to fight his entire life for equal treatment, and to overcome barriers. He will run again for office, he vowed, and will remain a Liberal. But he will not participate in a process involving backroom deals hidden from the public.
“I want to serve Sudbury, and that's it,” Olivier said. “I will seek office in the future … I give you my word.”
The fact he came so close to winning in June makes his decision all the more difficult, he said. A political unknown before the June election, Olivier lost to former city councillor Joe Cimino by 980 votes. Cimino, who won the riding for the NDP, resigned in November, citing family and health reasons.
While no date has been set for a byelection to replace him, a vote must be held within six months. Olivier said he is still a young man determined to serve his community. While recent events have left him disappointed with politics, he said he will learn from it and move on.
“It's a bitter pill to swallow,” he said. “But it has made me stronger. It has made me wiser.”
When asked if he's considering running for another party or as an independent in the byelection, Olivier said the only thing on his mind was spending the holidays with family and friends and not thinking about politics.
“Maybe I'll play the pan flute,” he quipped, eliciting laughs from an otherwise tense room. “I hope the best for the next candidate.”