10/12/2011 01:51 EDT | Updated 12/12/2011 05:12 EST

NDP names veterans to key positions in Ontario's new minority parliament

TORONTO - The New Democrats are gearing up for a minority parliament by naming two veterans to key positions in the Ontario legislature.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath appointed Toronto's Cheri DiNovo as the party's chief whip and northeastern Ontario's Gilles Bisson as house leader on Wednesday.

DiNovo's job is an important one, as the governing Liberals are one seat shy of a majority government with just 53 seats. She'll be making sure that all 17 New Democrats show up to vote on new legislation.

The two opposition parties combined have 54 seats, which means every vote will count.

As house leader, Bisson will negotiate weekly with the other party representatives on what legislation will be brought forward for debate.

"Gilles and Cheri bring experience, skill and a desire to make this legislature work for everyday people," Horwath said in a statement.

There is no word so far on who the Progressive Conservatives or the Liberals will appoint to those important posts, although Premier Dalton McGuinty is expected to speak publicly Thursday.

In the last legislative session, veteran Tory Norm Miller — son of former premier Frank Miller — served as chief whip while John Yakabuski was house leader.

Before the Oct. 6 election, Peterborough's Jeff Leal served as the Liberals' chief whip and North Bay's Monique Smith was house leader.

It's unclear when the Tories or Liberals will be meeting with their newly elected members. The New Democrats say they'll hold their first caucus meeting on Thursday.

The 15 rookie Tories joining the newly expanded Opposition benches will get their orientation session on Friday.

The legislative assembly will also invite new MPPs to two orientation sessions to help them understand rules and procedures, but no dates have been set yet. However, they're traditionally held three weeks after a provincial election.

There will likely be more political jockeying to come after a lacklustre election that saw less than half eligible voters cast a ballot and gave the governing Liberals a reduced mandate.

Experts say the Liberals may be courting an opposition MPP to cross the floor, but would lose a seat if one of their members becomes Speaker — the legislature's referee and guardian.

The Tories and NDP will likely be reluctant to nominate one of their own for Speaker and level the playing field with the Liberals.

DiNovo, who served as deputy speaker, said Tuesday that she'd welcome the nomination under different circumstances, but wouldn't be interested under the current minority situation.

Veteran Conservative Elizabeth Witmer, who was re-elected in Kitchener-Waterloo, said she wouldn't accept a nomination either.

It puts all members who would have liked to seek the position in an awkward position, she said Wednesday.

"I believe that it does, because the minute somebody goes over, then there's equal representation: 53-53," she said.

"But up until then, the opposition parties do have more members, so that does create a little bit of a different balance. I'm not sure in the long term there it's going make a difference."

Rural Conservative Randy Hillier, who isn't known for following the rules, laughed off the suggestion that his name could come up.

"Do you really think that's a possibility?" he said with a laugh. "How desperate do you think Dalton is?"

While becoming Speaker may not be in the cards for Hillier, he said it's clear that McGuinty will try to "buy" himself a majority by tempting someone to cross the floor.

"Those are the two biggest tools that he can use for buying a majority is either a cabinet post or the Speaker's chair," Hillier said.

Speaker Steve Peters, a Liberal who decided not to run for re-election this fall, will continue in the job until someone is elected to replace him.

The governing Liberals are ultimately responsible for putting forward a candidate if the Tories and NDP hold out, but can't nominate anyone from another party.

Since the Speaker cannot be a leader of a political party or a cabinet minister, McGuinty will have to name his ministers first before a Speaker can be elected.