Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson
The Toronto Star, Dec. 16, 2014
Accessibility News Wonders: Is Premier Wynne discriminating against him because he has a Disability?
A former Liberal candidate who hoped to be Ontario’s first quadriplegic MPP says Premier Kathleen Wynne’s office hinted he’d be rewarded for not contesting the upcoming Sudbury byelection.
Andrew Olivier, who finished 980 votes behind the NDP’s Joe Cimino in the June 12 election, said Monday that Wynne herself told him she wants a different Liberal flag-bearer in the race to fill Cimino’s vacant seat.
“I will not be bullied, I will not be bought,” Olivier said at a Sudbury news conference where he discussed being railroaded from the byelection sparked by the New Democrat MPP’s surprise resignation Nov. 20.
“Premier Kathleen Wynne contacted me by phone and … told me she wanted someone else as the candidate.”
Both opposition parties said his sensational allegations warrant investigations by the Ontario Provincial Police and Elections Ontario.
Olivier said Pat Sorbara, Wynne’s deputy chief of staff, and a local Liberal fundraiser suggested it would be to his advantage to clear the way for an unnamed preferred candidate
“On Friday, the head of the Ontario Liberal Party campaign, Pat Sorbara, called me to reiterate suggestions of a job or appointment. I told Pat I had a job and that I wanted to seek the nomination to be Sudbury’s MPP,” he said. “At that point, I was informed that if I sought the nomination, the premier was prepared to bypass the nomination process and appoint their chosen candidate.”
In a brief statement, Sorbara said: “any suggestion that anything was offered in exchange for any action is categorically false.”
Wynne insisted “there was no specific promise” to Olivier, though she didn’t dispute the party would appoint a candidate instead of holding an open nomination.
“There was a discussion with Andrew Olivier,” said the premier, who repeatedly refused to say why he no longer makes the cut.
“I have had a couple of conversations with him. What we were trying to do was pay Andrew the respect of giving him an opportunity to know there was another candidate.”
Following a noon speech to Toronto’s Economic Club, Wynne stressed Olivier is not automatically entitled to get the Liberal nod simply because he ran last time.
“This is a new situation,” she said. “I’m sorry that Andrew is disappointed. I understand that. I do hope that he stays involved in the Liberal party and politics in general.”
Progressive Conservative House leader Steve Clark pounced on Olivier’s claims, sending a letter to Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes requesting an investigation.
Clark said the Tories believe the sections of the Criminal Code of Canada that deal with bribery and corruption may have been violated.
NDP House leader Gilles Bisson has also written to Hawkes – and Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa – seeking a probe into “an alleged bribery attempt.”
Asked if he was being discriminated against because he is in wheelchair and might have difficulty campaigning in a winter byelection in snowy Sudbury, Olivier said: “I would hope that would not be the case.”
“It’s very disappointing,” said the one-time candidate, who was paralyzed in as a teenager in a 1994 hockey game.
“Anyone who has a disability knows a major challenge is maintaining your self-respect and dignity, which is not easy when you depend on so many people. I have worked hard over 20 years since my injury to maintain a strong sense of dignity. That won’t change now.”
Olivier did not rule out running as an independent, which could siphon votes from the Liberals, enabling the NDP to hold a seat they feared losing after Cimino quit just five months into his term.