Elizabeth Witmer

Elizabeth Witmer bigraphy, stories - Canadian politician

Elizabeth Witmer : biography

October 16, 1946 –

Elizabeth Witmer (née Gosar; born October 16, 1946) is a former politician in Ontario, Canada. She was a member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1990 until April 2012, representing Waterloo North and later Kitchener—Waterloo as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party.http://www.ontla.on.ca/web/members/members_detail.do?locale=en&ID=101

She currently heads Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board.


Witmer was born in Schiedam, Netherlands. She moved with her family to Ontario at a young age. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, and later attended the Althouse College of Education. She did postgraduate work at the University of Waterloo. Witmer worked as a secondary school teacher from 1968 to 1980, in West Lorne, London and Guelph. She was named the "Kitchener-Waterloo Woman of the Year" in 1968.

Career in Ontario politics

Witmer began her political career as a school trustee, serving on the Waterloo County Board of Education from 1980 to 1990; she became its chair in 1984. She first ran for the Ontario legislature in the 1987 election, but was defeated by Ontario Liberal Party Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Herb Epp in Waterloo North.

Epp retired before the 1990 provincial election, and Witmer again won the Progressive Conservative nomination in the riding. She was successful this time, defeating New Democrat Hugh Miller and Liberal Andrew Telegdi (later a federal Member of Parliament). The NDP scored an upset victory in this election while the Progressive Conservatives won only 20 of 130 seats for third-party status.

Cabinet appointment

There was a significant swing to the Progressive Conservatives in the 1995 provincial election, and Witmer was re-elected by more than 17000 votes over her nearest opponent. On June 26, 1995, she was appointed Minister of Labour in the government of Mike Harris. In October 1997, she was promoted to the key portfolio of Minister of Health, replacing the more confrontational Jim Wilson.

Harris’s government was initially regarded by many as uniformly right-wing, although moderate Red Tory figures such as Witmer and Isabel Bassett eventually emerged in key portfolios. Witmer’s appointment as Minister of Health was generally interpreted as signalling that the government desired a more moderate approach to negotiations with the health sector. Despite this, she presided over a controversial restructuring process which included a number of government cutbacks.

Witmer was re-elected in the 1999 election, defeating Liberal Sean Strickland by just under 10,000 votes. On July 17, 1999 her portfolio was renamed the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and she focused her ministry’s attention on community services and long-term care. Following a cabinet shuffle on February 8, 2001, she became Minister of the Environment.

2002 PC leadership campaign and afterward

She ran in the 2002 PC leadership election to succeed Harris as Tory leader and Premier, but placed fourth on the first ballot and threw her support to the eventual winner, Ernie Eves. In April 2002, she was appointed Deputy Premier and Minister of Education.

The 2003 election saw a significant backlash against the Conservative government. Witmer was re-elected in Kitchener—Waterloo (again defeating Strickland, this time by 1501 votes), but was one of only 24 Progressive Conservatives returned. Moreover, she is considered to be one of the few moderates in a caucus dominated by the right-wing of the party. She was named as deputy leader of the opposition, and serves as her party’s critic on long-term care and women’s issues.

Witmer considered running to succeed Eves in the 2004 PC leadership election, but ultimately supported John Tory’s successful candidacy instead. Tory re-appointed Witmer as deputy leader. Her appointment was considered a notable victory for the centrist wing of the party. In the 2007 provincial election, Witmer won re-election by 4,917 votes.

Witmer again considered running in the 2009 PC leadership election, following the resignation of John Tory, but ultimately she decided to endorse Christine Elliott.

In 2007, Equal Voice, a non-partisan organization dedicated to improving the status of women in politics, conducted an "Ontario’s Greatest Female Premier" contest to name the woman in politics whom respondents felt would make the best Premier of Ontario. Witmer won the contest, ahead of political activist Georgina Bencsik and federal Member of Parliament Olivia Chow. at Equal Voice.

Resignation and appointment to WSIB

On April 27, 2012 Witmer announced that she was resigning as an MPP, just seven months after the last election, and had accepted an appointment to head the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.. Toronto Star, April 27, 2012. She succeeded Steve Mahoney as chair. She revealed in September 2012 that she chose to accept the WSIB position because her husband Cam had recently been diagnosed with cancer.. Toronto Star, September 7, 2012.