Elizabeth Witmer

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Elizabeth Witmer
Chair of the
Workplace Safety & Insurance Board
Assumed office
April 27, 2012
Preceded by Steve Mahoney
Deputy Premier of Ontario
In office
April 15, 2002 – October 22, 2003
Preceded by Jim Flaherty
Succeeded by George Smitherman (2006)
Ontario MPP
In office
Preceded by New riding
Succeeded by Catherine Fife
Constituency Kitchener—Waterloo
In office
Preceded by Herb Epp
Succeeded by Riding abolished
Constituency Waterloo North
Personal details
Born Elizabeth Gosar
(1946-10-16) October 16, 1946 (age 71)
Schiedam, Netherlands
Nationality Canadian
Political party Progressive Conservative
Alma mater University of Western Ontario
Althouse College of Education
University of Waterloo
Profession Teacher

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 2012, representing Waterloo North and later Kitchener—Waterloo as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party.

In 2012, she was appointed as chair of the 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.


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 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.[1]

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).[2] 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[edit]

There was a significant swing to the Progressive Conservatives in the 1995 provincial election, and Witmer was re-elected by more than 17,000 votes over her nearest opponent.[3] On June 26, 1995, she was appointed Minister of Labour in the government of Mike Harris.[4] In October 1997, she was promoted to the key portfolio of Minister of Health, replacing the more confrontational Jim Wilson.[5]

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.[6] On June 17, 1999 her portfolio was renamed the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.[7] Following a cabinet shuffle on February 8, 2001, she became Minister of the Environment.[8]

Cabinet positions[edit]

Ontario Provincial Government of Ernie Eves
Cabinet posts (2)
Predecessor Office Successor
Jim Flaherty Deputy Premier of Ontario
George Smitherman
[note 1]
Janet Ecker Minister of Education
Gerard Kennedy
Ontario Provincial Government of Mike Harris
Cabinet posts (3)
Predecessor Office Successor
Dan Newman Minister of the Environment
Chris Stockwell
Jim Wilson Minister of Health
[note 2]

Tony Clement
Shirley Coppen Minister of Labour
Jim Flaherty

2002 PC leadership campaign and afterward[edit]

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.[9]

The 2003 election saw a significant backlash against the Conservative government. Witmer was re-elected in Kitchener—Waterloo defeating Strickland by a reduced margin of 1,501 votes.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

Resignation and appointment to WSIB[edit]

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 & Insurance Board.[13] 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.[14]



  1. ^ There was no Deputy Premier named from 2003-2006 until Smitherman was appointed by Dalton McGuinty.
  2. ^ Renamed as Ministry of Health and Long-term Care in 1999.


  1. ^ "Results from individual ridings". The Windsor Star. September 11, 1987. p. F2. 
  2. ^ "Ontario election: Riding-by-riding voting results". The Globe and Mail. September 7, 1990. p. A12. 
  3. ^ "Summary of Valid Ballots by Candidate". Elections Ontario. June 8, 1995. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  4. ^ "Mike Harris' cabinet". The Spectator. Hamilton, Ont. June 27, 1995. p. A7. 
  5. ^ Rusk, James; Mackie, Richard (October 10, 1997). "Premier to shuffle cabinet Ministers to move out of hot portfolios: Snobelen from Education, Wilson from Health". The Globe and Mail. p. A1. 
  6. ^ "Summary of Valid Ballots by Candidate". Elections Ontario. June 3, 1999. Archived from the original on 2014-10-06. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  7. ^ "Ontario Cabinet". The Spectator. Hamilton, Ont. June 18, 1999. p. C8. 
  8. ^ "Flaherty to be new Ontario finance chief". Sudbury Star. February 8, 2001. p. A5. 
  9. ^ "Ont-Cabinet". Toronto, Ont: Canadian Press NewsWire. April 15, 2002. 
  10. ^ "Summary of Valid Ballots by Candidate". Elections Ontario. October 2, 2003. Retrieved 2014-03-02. [permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Summary of Valid Ballots Cast for Each Candidate" (PDF). Elections Ontario. October 10, 2007. p. 7 (xvi). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 7, 2009. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  12. ^ Ontario's Greatest Female Premier at Equal Voice.
  13. ^ "MPP Elizabeth Witmer leaves Tories for WSIB post". Toronto Star. April 27, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Elizabeth Witmer left politics after husband diagnosed with cancer". Toronto Star. September 7, 2012. 

External links[edit]