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MPP Elizabeth Witmer stepping down to lead WSIB

Ontario’s longest serving female MPP

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

TORONTO, Ontario - The surprise resignation of long-serving Progressive Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer has shaken up the balance of power at Queen’s Park where Premier Dalton McGuinty governs with a Liberal Party minority. Just minutes after the Dutch-born MPP announced her departure from the province’s parliament, the McGuinty cabinet issued a notice that Witmer had been nominated as Chair of Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

Witmer, who is 65, has represented the riding of Kitchener-Waterloo since 1990. She is one of the longest serving Dutch-born provincial politicians in Canada. She had her start in politics in 1980 as a school board trustee and was elected Chair four years later.

Some analysts of the Ontario provincial political scene see a sinister plot by McGuinty, pointing to the fact that a Liberal by-election win would give him his much coveted parliamentary majority.

The Conservatives were aware that the Liberals would be seeking out the “weakest” Conservative and NDP members to regain majority power but were taken off-guard by Witmer’s resignation and WSIB nomination.

If the Liberals add Kitchener-Waterloo to their column, the McGuinty cabinet will match the opposition with 53 votes, while the Speaker by convention is obligated to support the government on confidence matters.

Minister, Vice Premier

Witmer has served with four different party leaders - Premier Mike Harris, Premier Ernie Eves (when she was Vice-Premier), John Tory and Tim Hudak. Witmer served stints as labour, health and education minister.

Hudak praised Witmer for her “grace, integrity and distinction” and noted she is the province’s longest serving female MPP in history.

In an editorial, the Hamilton Spectator calls the departure of Elizabeth Witmer from the Ontario legislature and the world of elected office a loss to the Ontario Progressive Conservative party and to Ontario as a whole.

The paper describes her as a solid MPP, a respected and unflappable politician, and a substantive member of cabinet — all at a time when there are precious few of those to go around.

Witmer is the instigator of her province declaring May Dutch Heritage Month, a rare unanimous vote in 2011.