Liberal MP Michael Levitt is stepping down less than a year after he was re-elected in his Toronto riding.
Levitt made the announcement online Tuesday, saying he has told the Speaker of the House of Commons that he will give up his York Centre seat on Sept. 1. He is set to become president and CEO of the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and racism.
In a statement posted on Facebook, Levitt said serving in political life can be “incredibly intense” and often “all-encompassing.” Levitt, who is married with two children, said the last five months of the COVID-19 pandemic have given a “clearer sense” of what his serving as a member of Parliament has meant for his family.
“It hasn’t been without consequence to those I love most, and while it is an incredible privilege to serve the people of York Centre, I know deep down that now is the time for me to put family first and come back home, both physically and mentally,” he said.
Levitt was first elected in 2015, taking back a once reliably Liberal Toronto riding that was won by the Conservatives four years earlier. He won handily again last October.
He said he looked forward to continuing the work he’s done over the past five years to fight anti-Semitism and promote human rights, “including bringing a renewed focus to the issue of systemic racism in Canada and how we can work together to address it.”
Levitt noted he co-sponsored a bill, alongside Conservative Sen. Linda Frum, to recognize May as Jewish heritage month. The legislation cleared the House in 2018 with unanimous support.
Frum took to Twitter Tuesday to laud Levitt as “the model of a caring, ethical, devoted MP who easily made friends across party lines.”
Levitt, who also serves as the chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs and international development committee, ended his note with a message of thanks to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his staff, and colleagues in Ottawa for “making this such a meaningful opportunity to serve.”
His departure means Trudeau will need to call a by-election in the riding within six months of the seat being declared vacant — the first byelection of the 43rd Parliament that began in December and the first since the start of the pandemic.
Liberals are currently facing pressure over the government’s since-scrapped deal with WE Charity to administer the Canada Student Service Grant, sparking chatter of a possible cabinet shuffle in the future. Both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau are facing ethics investigations and calls from the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois to step down over the matter.
If Liberals are able to line up a star candidate in York Centre, it will be something of a throwback to the 2004 federal election that saw NHL legend Ken Dryden win the then-safe Grit riding and join the cabinet of former prime minister Paul Martin.
The vacancy could also put pressure on the Tories if either former cabinet minister Peter MacKay or Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis win the Tory leadership later this month. While neither contender currently holds a seat in the House, MacKay told supporters last month that he wants to run again in Nova Scotia if he becomes Tory leader.