TORONTO - The Liberals appointed veteran Conservative Elizabeth Witmer to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board in hopes of winning the one seat they need to form a majority government, the NDP charged Monday.
Witmer surprised everyone but the Liberals Friday when she suddenly quit after 22 years as a member of provincial parliament — and just seven months after the last election — to accept the nomination to the top job at the WSIB.
The timing was right for her personally, Witmer told reporters Monday after being praised by all three party leaders in the legislature.
"At any time anything can happen in politics, and my decision was based on where I am in my life and my career," said Witmer.
"It’s been a great experience and it’s tough to leave."
PC Leader Tim Hudak called the appointment a "curve ball" that he didn't see coming, admitting he did not get a heads-up from Witmer.
"It caught a lot of folks off guard," said Hudak.
"She called me Friday afternoon with the news, which obviously I greet with mixed feelings."
During question period, New Democrat Taras Natyshak said there was no doubt Witmer knew the WSIB from her time as labour minister, but questioned whether that was what got her the job.
"Did the premier appoint Miss Witmer based on her vision for the WSIB, or are they so desperate for a majority government they’re ready to play politics with this appointment?" asked Natyshak.
The Liberals fell one seat short of a majority last October, winning 53 seats compared to 54 seats of the combined Tories and NDP.
The hope of winning that one seat to form a majority government is what prompted the Liberals to lure Witmer with the WSIB job, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Liz Witmer is a capable woman, she’s got a lot of skills obviously, but we don’t share her vision of the WSIB," said Horwath.
"It used to be that the Liberals didn’t have the same vision as Liz Witmer either when it comes to the WSIB, so that begs the question exactly why was Liz Witmer chosen for this particular appointment."
Unlike Horwath, Hudak was not willing to accuse the Liberals of giving Witmer the WSIB job so they can force a byelection and try to win the one seat they need for a majority.
"Far be it from me to try and get inside (Premier) Dalton McGuinty’s head and guess what his motive is in this," said Hudak.
The Liberals weren't saying just when they might call a byelection in Kitchener-Waterloo to replace Witmer — McGuinty has up to six months to schedule the vote — but suggested they would not wait long.
"No decision has been made yet as to timing," said veteran Liberal Greg Sorbara, who serves as the party's campaign co-chairman.
"I always like them sooner rather than later."
Winning one more seat and getting a majority wouldn't really change things at Queen's Park, suggested Sorbara, because they would still have a Liberal Speaker, giving the government the same number of seats as the combined Tories and NDP for votes. The Speaker votes only in cases of a tie, and always with the government.
"If we were to win we’d have a theoretical majority with the vote of the Speaker, but this Parliament is actually getting along fairly well," said Sorbara.
"It doesn’t change the mandate that we received on Oct. 6, that is all three parties should work together."
It's clear the Liberals don't like working with others, and had to be forced into a deal with the NDP to get their budget approved, said Horwath.
"I think it’s obvious this government has resisted from Day 1 the minority situation, they weren’t willing to work together at all in the first several months," said Horwath.
"So of course that’s something the Liberals are looking to try to get out of that situation."
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/10/lise-st-denis-ndp-join-liberals_n_1196406.html?ref=canada-politics">Lise St-Denis' defection from the NDP to the Liberals</a> has put crossing the floor back in the news. Here's a list of other recent federal floor crossers.
The newly elected NDP MP jumped ship to the Liberals just 5 months after the federal election of 2011. St-Denis faced harsh criticism from those who saw the move as disregarding the will of her constituents. Many argued that voters in St-Denis' Quebec riding had voted for Jack Layton and not for her.
In 2005, Belinda Stronach, Conservative MP and daughter of billionaire Frank Stronach, crossed the floor and joined Paul Martin's Liberal Party. She was named Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal.
In 2006, Liberal MP David Emerson joined the Conservatives just two weeks after being elected. He was named Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Pacific Gateway and the Vancouver-Whistler Olympics.
In 2007, Wajid Khan jumped from the Liberals to the Conservatives after then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion stated that Khan would not be permitted to continue in his role as an advisor to Stephen Harper.
Carolyn Parish was suspended from the Liberal caucus in 2004 after stomping on a George Bush doll for a "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" sketch. The outspoken MP subsequently decided to sit as an independent.
In 2004, Canadian Alliance MP Keith Martin renounced his party to sit as an independent and announced he would seek to run as a Liberal in the next election. His move was a response to the merger between the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives. He would go on to win the Liberal nomination in his riding and the election and sat in the Liberal caucus until his retirement in 2011.
While Bob Rae isn't technically a floor crosser (he didn't switch parties while sitting as an MP) the interim Liberal leader did switch parties. Rae governed Ontario has the province's NDP premier from 1990-1995. In 1996 he resigned as leader of the Ontario NDP and in 1998 resigned from the party altogether. He returned to politics in 2006, joining the Liberal Party and running for its leadership. He was defeated in his leadership bid by Stéphane Dion, but won the federal riding of Toronto Centre in 2007.
Ujjal Dosanjh shares a similar story to Bob Rae. He served as NDP premier of B.C. from 2000-2001, but later joined the federal Liberals. He served as an Liberal MP from 2004 until his defeat in the most recent federal election.