Premier Kathleen Wynne has lured NDP MP Glenn Thibeault to be the Liberal candidate in the looming Sudbury byelection.
As first disclosed by the Star on Tuesday, Wynne, who derailed former Liberal candidate Andrew Olivier’s bid to become Ontario’s first quadriplegic MPP, convinced the two-term New Democrat to effectively cross the floor to switch levels of government.
“I am proud to announce that I will be running as the Ontario Liberal party candidate in the upcoming byelection in my community of Sudbury,” Thibeault said in a statement.
“The need for this byelection was sudden and unexpected, and I have come to the decision to move to provincial politics after much reflection and discussion with those people close to me,” he said.
“I have spoken to Premier Kathleen Wynne about her plan to create greater opportunity and security for all Ontarians — and her plan is exactly what Sudbury needs,” the New Democrat defector said.
“I have taken the time to read the mandate letters the premier assigned to cabinet ministers and parliamentary assistants and it has become clear to me that I want to play a part in the important work her government is doing to build for the future,” he said.
“I need to be clear, this is not a decision I made easily. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve my community for the past six years at the federal level, but my time at the federal level has come to an end.”
In a separate statement, Wynne said she was “thrilled” to have Thibeault on her team.
“I know that the residents of Sudbury deserve and are eager to have a stable representative at Queen’s Park as soon as possible and I will be announcing the date of the byelection in the New Year,” the premier said in an apparent shot at former NDP MPP Joe Cimino who resigned Nov. 20 for unspecified personal reasons just five months after being elected.
Thibeault’s departure is a major blow to both federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair less than 10 months before an election and to his provincial counterpart Andrea Horwath.
Horwath is still reeling from the Cimino affair — he had won a seat previously held by the Liberals for almost a generation and his victory was one of the few bright spots for her NDP this year.
Thibeault, federal caucus chair until two weeks ago, backed Mulcair in the 2012 NDP leadership and had worked closely with provincial New Democrats. He supported NDP MPP Gilles Bisson in the 2009 provincial leadership.
Bisson lashed out at his former supporter, calling him “a turncoat MP who is more interested in his own career than the people of Sudbury.”
“Glenn Thibeault should immediately step down as an MP, stop collecting a federal MP’s salary and ensure he does not use any MP resources for his campaign. As a northerner and a New Democrat, I’m deeply disappointed in Glenn Thibeault.”
Sources say Thibeault’s relations with Mulcair have been strained for some time.
Aware of that and mindful the New Democrats may have trouble replicating their 2011 federal electoral success in Ontario next year, the provincial Liberals actively wooed him.
But Grit sources insist they have not promised the Sudbury MP a cabinet post if he wins a byelection expected on Feb. 12.
Should he triumph, Thibeault will take a hefty pay cut. MPs make $163,700 with a pension while MPPs earn $116,500 and have no pension plan. (He was paid an extra $11,500 a year to be caucus chair, a post he held until Dec. 4.)
On Monday, the premier confirmed she had told Olivier, who finished a close second to Cimino last spring, she did not want him as a candidate again.
“There was a discussion with Andrew Olivier,” she said, refusing to say why he wouldn’t be the Liberal flag-bearer.
”This is a new situation. 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.”
Olivier hinted that Wynne’s office promised him a job or an appointment if he stepped aside.
He said Monday he declined their tacit offers because he wanted to run.
But Liberals told him another unnamed candidate would be appointed if he didn’t get out of the way.
“I will not be bullied, I will not be bought,” said Olivier.
The controversy led the NDP’s Bisson and Progressive Conservative house leader Steve Clark to write to Ontario Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa and Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes respectively to request investigations.
Wynne on Monday denied anything untoward had happened as she quietly engineered the defection of a prominent New Democrat.
Olivier, for his part, said he has not ruled out running as an independent in the byelection.
Thibeault’s move will trigger a federal byelection unless Prime Minister Stephen Harper calls an early election this spring.
That could rob the Liberals of a key campaign talking point: blaming Cimino and the New Democrats for sparking a vote that will cost between $350,000 and $500,000.