Greg Sorbara


Greg Sorbara

Gregory "Greg" Sorbara, MPP (born September 4, 1946 in Toronto, Ontario) a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario for Vaughan. Sorbara served as the Minister of Finance in the Ontario Liberal Party government of Premier Dalton McGuinty from 2003 to 2007.

He resigned on October 11, 2005, following a police investigation involving his family's real estate development firm and was reinstated on May 23, 2006 after a judge ruled that there was no cause for including Sorbara's name on a search warrant. Sorbara chaired the party's successful 2007 election campaign but announced on October 26, 2007 that he was leaving the cabinet to spend more time with his family but would continue as a backbench MPP.

Early career

Sorbara was involved in philanthropic and environmental causes in his early years. He left the University of Toronto without graduating in the 1960s to work with street youth in Vancouver, and spent a number of years working as an organic farmer in the British Columbia interior. He subsequently returned to Toronto, completed his education at York University, Glendon College and Osgoode Hall Law School, and practised law before running for public office.

Sorbara was first elected to the Ontario legislature in the 1985 provincial election, defeating incumbent Progressive Conservative William Hodgson in York North, a suburban riding north of Toronto. The Liberals under David Peterson were able to form a minority government after this election, and Sorbara was appointed Minister of Colleges and Universities and Minister of Skills Development on June 26, 1985.

Sorbara was re-elected in the redistributed riding of York Centre in the 1987 provincial election. On September 29, 1987, he became Minister of Labour with responsibility for Women's Issues. Following a cabinet shuffle in August 1989, he became Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations.

In 1990, Sorbara was a vocal opponent of Peterson's plans to call a snap election at just over two-and-a-half years into his mandate. He argued that the government should return to the electorate after a standard four-year cycle was completed, and run on the full record of its accomplishment. His objections were dismissed, and the Liberals were upset by the New Democratic Party in the election which followed. Sorbara had little difficulty defeating NDP candidate Laurie Orrett in his riding.

In 1992, Sorbara ran for the leadership of the Liberal Party as an "anti-establishment" candidate, claiming that the party had lost touch with its support base in the Peterson years. Although he is usually regarded as being on the right of the Liberal Party, Sorbara's campaign incorporated both left-wing and right-wing elements, opposing the NDP's labour laws but also promising to target poverty and homelessness in Ontario. He also spoke of in favour of government intervention in economic matters, arguing that growth could be best accomplished in partnership with the private sector. He finished third on the first ballot, and remained in this position until dropping from the race after the fourth ballot. Sorbara refused to support either Murray Elston or Lyn McLeod (the eventual winner) on the fifth and final ballot, and did not seek re-election in 1995.

From 1995 to 2003, Sorbara was a partner in The Sorbara Group, a prominent real estate and land development firm, and served as a director on the corporate board of Royal Group Technologies Inc. He was also director of the York United Way, as well as a Member of the Board of Alumni that governs York University.

Political comeback

Sorbara supported Dalton McGuinty's successful bid for the provincial party leadership at the 1996 leadership convention. He did not run in the 1999 provincial election, but was elected Party President in over Alvin Curling in November 1999. He later won a 2001 by-election in the redistributed Greater Toronto Area riding of Vaughan—King—Aurora, defeating Progressive Conservative candidate Joyce Frustaglio by almost 10,000 votes.

Sorbara's return to the legislature was seen as a significant victory for the Liberals. Previously, the Progressive Conservative Party had dominated the suburban and commuter ridings around Toronto (the so-called "905 belt", referring to the region's telephone code). Sorbara's victory indicated that the Liberals were once again positioned to win seats in the region, and to threaten the Conservative hold on government accordingly. Sorbara himself was given a prominent role in the Liberal Party's 2003 campaign.

Minister of Finance

The Liberals won the 2003 election, and Sorbara (who was re-elected without difficulty) was appointed Minister of Finance in the Ontario Cabinet on October 23, 2003.

Sorbara became involved in a potentially serious conflict-of-interest controversy not long after his appointment. In late 2003, the Ontario Securities Commission informed the Finance Minister's office that Royal Group Technologies would be announcing they were under investigation by the OSC. As a former director of Royal Group, this placed Sorbara in a conflict of interest as he also oversaw the OSC. Sorbara could not consult the Premier concerning the conflict of interest as he was restricted by the province's Securities Act from informing anyone else of the impending announcement by the company. Royal Group did not announce the investigation for almost two months.

There were calls for the minister to resign after the controversy became public knowledge, but Sorbara was cleared of any wrongdoing by the provincial integrity commissioner in August 2004.

Sorbara is a moderate fiscal conservative, though he supports the general principle of government intervention and is not a social conservative.

On May 18, 2004, Provincial Finance Minister Greg Sorbara released the McGuinty government's first budget. The centrepiece was a controversial new Health Premium of $300 to $900, staggered according to income. This violated a key Liberal campaign pledge not to raise taxes, and gave the government an early reputation for breaking promises. The Liberals defended the premium by pointing to the previous government's hidden deficit, and McGuinty claimed he needed to break his campaign pledge on taxation to fulfill his promises on other fronts. This broken promise has created a lasting public relations difficulty for the Liberal Party.

The Ontario Health Premium also became a major issue in the early days of the 2004 federal election, called a week after the Ontario budget. Most believe that the controversy hampered Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's bid for re-election.

Also controversial was the elimination of coverage for health services not covered by the Canada Health Act including eye examinations and physical therapy. Other elements of the McGuinty government's first budget were a four-year plan to tackle the deficit left behind by the Conservatives, free immunization for children, investments in education and investments to lower waiting times for cancer care, cardiac care, joint replacement and MRI and CT scans.

On May 11, 2005, Sorbara delivered his second budget. The flagship of the budget was the "Reaching Higher" plan. Investing $6.2 billion over the next four years, the plan increases accessibility for low-income students with loans and grants while funding more enrolements, expands medical school spaces, and invests in new faculty, graduate scholarships and research.

The budget also broke a vow to balance the budget in 2007-08. Sorbara instead aimed at balance in 2008-09.

Sorbara also moved to expand infrastructure spending by encouraging Ontario's large pension plans to invest in the construction of new roads, schools and hospitals. Specific projects in the budget included a 10-year expansion of the TTC and Go Transit, 15,000 new affordable housing units and improved border crossings. NDP leader Howard Hampton described this move as "privatization by stealth."

After a cabinet shuffle on June 29, 2005, Finance Minister Sorbara was also named as the Chair of the Management Board of Cabinet.

Sorbara was easily re-elected to the Legislature in the 2007 election, but surprised many when on October 26, 2007, he announced that he no longer wanted to sit in Cabinet, citing he wanted to devote more time for his constituents and his family.cite news |first= |last= |authorlink=Robert Benzie|title=Sorbara quits cabinet |url=http://www.thestar.com/News/Ontario/article/270866 |publisher=Toronto Star |date=2007-10-26 |accessdate=2007-10-26]

Police probe and controversy

On October 11, 2005, the RCMP raided the Sorbara Group offices as part of the ongoing Royal Group Technologies investigation. The police warrant stated that there were reasonable grounds to believe Sorbara and other directors of Royal Group defrauded the company and shareholders when they bought land in Brampton, that was owned by a subsidiary of the Sorbara Group. [http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2005/10/12/sorbara051012.html] Sorbara initially resisted opposition calls for him to step down, but later resigned as Minister of Finance the same day.

Sorbara has issued a brief statement on this controversy. [http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/October2005/11/c9867.html] He denies any knowledge of the specific allegations against him, but notes that it is his responsibility as a minister to step aside "pending a resolution of this issue".

Following Sorbara's announcement, Dwight Duncan was appointed as Minister of Finance and Chair of the Management Board. Sorbara returned to cabinet in May 2006 after a judge ruled there was no evidence to justify the inclusion of Sorbara's name on a search warrant.

Federal Liberal leadership campaign

Sorbara was initially a supporter of John Manley's bid to lead the federal Liberal Party in early 2003. Manley subsequently dropped from the race. Sorbara was one of the key backers of former Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae's bid to lead the Liberal Party of Canada.

Personal

His daughter Martina Sorbara is a successful singer-songwriter, currently touring the United Kingdom as frontwoman to the electropop outfit Dragonette.

References

* [http://www.gregsorbara.com/ Greg Sorbara, MPP]


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