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Bribery trial hears from key witness

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SUDBURY, Ont.—The man at the centre of bribery allegations against two Ontario Liberals believed they were offering him opportunities within the party and not government appointments, court heard Friday.

Pat Sorbara, the Ontario Liberal Party CEO at the time of the allegations, and Gerry Lougheed, a local Liberal fundraiser, are facing bribery charges under the Election Act.

They're accused of offering would-be candidate Andrew Olivier a job or appointment to get him to step aside for Premier Kathleen Wynne's preferred candidate in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Under cross-examination Friday, Olivier said he believed Sorbara and Lougheed were talking about positions within the Liberal party, and neither directly said they could get him a public appointment.

Nothing “in the monetary sense” was offered to him and Lougheed didn't have the authority to promise a job, Olivier testified.

The defence lawyers' position is that the conversations involved internal party nomination processes, and not the public electoral process of becoming a candidate, which is governed by the Election Act.

The bribery section of the Election Act says no person shall directly or indirectly “give, procure, or promise or agree to procure an office or employment to induce a person to become a candidate, refrain from becoming a candidate, or withdraw his or her candidacy.”

Olivier agreed under cross-examination that at no point was he the Liberal byelection candidate.

Lougheed, Sorbara, and Wynne herself talked to Olivier in the days before the premier announced she was appointing Glenn Thibeault as the candidate.

Thibeault at the time was the NDP MP for the riding, won the byelection, and now is Ontario's energy minister.

Olivier testified that after the three talked to him, he knew it was Wynne's “vision” that Thibeault be the candidate but wasn't certain it was set in stone.

“It would be possible . . . but it didn't sound direct that it was happening,” he testified.

Court heard Thursday that one of the two charges Sorbara faces relates to an allegation that Thibeault asked for paid jobs on his byelection campaign for two constituency office staffers, and that Sorbara granted that request.

Thibeault previously has denied he sought anything that would be seen as a bribe in exchange for running and is not charged with any offences.

The premier herself is set to testify this Wednesday.

When court resumes today, it will mean two Liberal trials will be taking place simultaneously.

Two staffers of then-premier Dalton McGuinty are facing charges of breach of trust, mischief in relation to data, and misuse of a computer system to commit the offence of mischief.

The allegations relate to the deletion of documents surrounding the cancellation of two gas plants ahead of the 2011 provincial election.

Their trial was set to start today in Toronto and last for six weeks.

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