SUDBURY, ONTARIO – Glenn Thibeault’s Liberal leanings could go back much further than late 2014, say sources loyal to the Liberals and the NDP.
When Thibeault announced in December he would be running in the provincial byelection as a Grit candidate, jaws dropped and campaign teams mobilized. Now The Star has learned Thibeault’s plans could go back as far as 2009.
“As a close advisor and someone who’s been around since the very beginning with the former MP, Glenn was approached to cross the floor to the federal Liberal party in summer 2009, in the months leading up to the (Michael) Ignatieff caucus meeting, which took place in Sudbury in September,” a well-placed source told The Star on Wednesday. This individual has spoken on the condition of complete anonymity. “Ultimately he decided not to make that switch, on the urging of many people around him.”
Reached Wednesday, Michael Ignatieff said there was nothing curious about the timing of his caucus meeting in the nickel city.
“No party with roots to the north like ours – remember Lester Pearson represented Algoma for 20 years – would want to concede northern Ontario to the NDP,” he wrote in an email to The Star. “I don’t remember any connection between holding it in Sudbury and bringing Glenn over.”
While there were no concrete plans, The Star’s source said informal discussions took place during which Thibeault may have been offered a cabinet post.
“There was some mention that after a successful federal election and the election of an Ignatieff government, that there would be a cabinet post connected to that,” he/she said.
According to the source, Gerry Lougheed Jr. and Rick Bartolucci, who served as Sudbury’s Liberal MPP between 1995 and 2014, approached Thibeault.
Ultimately, a group of confidantes advised him to remain with the New Democrats.
“I, and others close to the MP, advised him it would damage a promising career (to switch),” the source said. “It would have been a political coup d’etat to have a new NDP MP – one of the orange wave that swept through northern Ontario in the 2008 election – defect and move to the Liberals in advance of what was largely expected to be an early election call in Fall 2009.”
Bartolucci admits he did speak with Thibeault and tried to woo him away from the NDP in 2009.
“There’s absolutely no question. Ever since Glenn was elected I’ve seen the incredible potential in Glenn, and the incredible work ethic and values that he has. Always – sometimes in jest and sometimes very seriously – I’ve tried to (convince him) to become a Liberal,” the retired MPP said. “From the time Glenn was elected the first time, when he beat Diane Marleau, I told him he’d make a wonderful Liberal.”
Ignatieff also told The Star he never personally had a conversation with Thibeault, but would not rule out whether or not discussions took place.
“I can categorically deny that (he spoke with Thibeault about switching parties),” Ignatieff told The Star. “I have no memory of that ever occurring. (There was) nothing directly with me. Whether he talked with some of my people, I don’t know, but it never got back to me.”
Bartolucci would not confirm whether or not Lougheed approached Thibeault in 2009. Lougheed did not return The Star’s calls on Wednesday.
The Star also placed three phone calls and sent an email to Thibeault’s campaign team to speak with the candidate, but they were not returned on Wednesday.
Published Feb. 5, 2015 in The Sudbury Star