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Byelection bribery trial Day 4: Former LU prez Giroux takes the stand today

Former Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci may not testify
Former Laurentian University president Dominic Giroux takes the stand today in the Sudbury byelection bribery trial. (File)

Today marks the fourth day of the Sudbury byelection bribery trial.

On the stand today is Dominic Giroux, the former president of Laurentian University and incoming CEO of Health Sciences North.

As reported yesterday, whether former Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci testifies is up in the air. On Monday, Crown prosecutors could be heard telling the defence the former cabinet minister may not be called, since Bill Nurmi, the former president of the Sudbury Liberal riding association, was able to provide the testimony they needed.

Of course the star witness in the case — or perhaps more accurately, the most anticipated witness — is Kathleen Wynne. The Ontario premier is slated to testify tomorrow.

Gerry Lougheed Jr., a Liberal fundraiser at the time, and Patricia Sorbara, the then Ontario Liberal Party CEO, are accused under the Election Act of offering Sudbury man Andrew Olivier a job or appointment to get him to step aside for Glenn Thibeault, who was Wynne's preferred candidate in the 2015 Sudbury byelection. 

The resulting scandal that ensued was triggered when Olivier released recordings of conversations he’d had with Lougheed and Sorbara in late 2014. The prosecution alleges the recordings show both Lougheed and Sorbara offered inducements to Olivier to step aside for Thibeault. The Crown also alleges Sorbara offered inducements to Thibeault to leave the federal NDP and his post as MP to run provincially for the Liberals in Ontario.

Yesterday, both Nurmi and Simon Tunstall, the former executive director of the Ontario Liberal Party, were on the stand.

Tunstall testified that since byelections rarely favour governing parties, he advised the Grits to skip an open nomination, and warned in an email in an email to Sorbara that there would be a backlash in Sudbury if Olivier, whose intention to seek the candidacy were well known, were thrust aside.

When he took the stand, Nurmi testified that the riding association wanted to have an open nomination after a contentious run up to the 2014 election. At the time, Olivier and former candidate Elise Idnani were in the running, but there were rumours swirling the premier wanted a star candidate and was courting former Sudbury mayor Marianne Matichuk.

The riding association pushed for and won an open nomination, which Olivier won.

Nurmi’s testimony also revealed what he saw as a split in the party between Bartolucci, who backed Sandra Pupatello for party leader in 2013, and Wynne. He said the riding association felt frozen out when Wynne took over the party.

Defence attorney Michael Lacy argued the riding association wanted an open nomination for the byelection, called after Joe Cimino, who won the 2014 Sudbury seat for the NDP, resigned, because that would favour Olivier (who had already signed up 300 to 500 members). 

Behind the scenes, Nurmi said there were rumours another star candidate was going to be foisted on the riding. When Olivier released his recordings and the members of the riding association board found out in earnest the party was looking to appoint, many wanted to resign, but Nurmi convinced them not to (many, including Nurmi, did quit when Thibeault was handed the candidacy).

He said the members were not upset with the star candidate, who turned out to be Thibeault, but with a process that sidestepped them.

The case continues today. You can follow along with political affairs reporter Darren MacDonald, who is live-tweeting the trial.