K-W braces for crucial byelection following Witmer resignation

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Elizabeth Witmer’s resignation last Friday as the Kitchener-Waterloo MPP came as a shock to the many who have supported her in the region for over 20 years.

Witmer will be assuming the role of chair of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) for a five-year term. She was appointed by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“At this point in time, based on personal reasons and family considerations, I made a decision that I believe was the right one,” she commented. Witmer is considered to be highly qualified for the position, having previously held the positions of Minister of Labour and Minister of Health, among many others.

A byelection must be held in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding within a six-month period. Although most pass without consequence, this election could have major implications for the Liberal party.

Not including Speaker Dave Levac, the Liberals currently hold 52 seats in the province out of 107. The number of combined seats held by the opposition sits at 53. Should the by-election be won by the Liberal party, they would hold an equal number of seats to both opposition parties. The Speaker could then vote in the instance of a tie.

Political analyst Barry Kay, who is a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, recalled, “I can’t think of a byelection that at the provincial level, maybe at any level…where so much was riding on one byelection.”

When asked about the potential impact provincially of the byelection, Witmer responded, “I think you know that the impact is a little bit overstated.”

She continued, “I think it’s kind of premature for all of the speculation that is going on.”

Eric Davis, who ran against Witmer as the Liberal candidate in last fall’s election, has already expressed plans to run again. “I ran last fall because I wanted to ensure that the progressive values of Kitchener-Waterloo were represented at Queen’s Park and that hasn’t changed,” he said.

According to Kay, the Liberals may have a greater chance for success in the upcoming by-election than in previous years.

“As long as Elizabeth Witmer was the [Progressive] Conservative candidate, she made the difference to keep the riding Conservative,” acknowledged Kay. “With her out of the way, the Liberals have a real chance.”

Davis did well in last fall’s election compared to previous candidates, coming in second by a margin of approximately 3,100 votes.

Former Green Party candidate J.D. McGuire stated in an email that he was “considering vying for the Green nomination in the upcoming byelection,” but would take some time to decide.

While polls will play a large part in determining when McGuinty decides to call the election, the absence of much of Waterloo’s student population over the summer may be taken into consideration. “I think the students being around in the fall will help at least a little bit of the margins in terms of how it might come out in an otherwise close election,” he added.

Witmer will continue to represent Kitchener-Waterloo at Queen’s Park until a new MPP is elected. As of now, she is unsure who will be running for the Progressive Conservatives in the byelection.

“I really enjoyed the interactions that I’ve had with the people in this community,” Witmer concluded. “That’s what I’m really going to miss.”

With files from Justin Smirlies

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