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Key cabinet stick handler goes for premier’s post of Ontario

Dutch-born minister a conciliator

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

TORONTO, Ontario - An Ontario politician is giving a new meaning to the electronic-age phrase www. Some aides of Schiedam, the Netherlands born Environment minister Mrs. Elizabeth Witmer prefer to spell it with capital letters. Instead of worldwide web, for them it stands for The 55-year old minister is one of the contenders for the premiers’ post of Canada’s most populous province.

Witmer who hopes to succeed Premier Harris after voting by Progressive Conservative party members next month, has served as minister in several portfolios where the government felt vulnerable because of unpopular decisions. According to many commentators, she avoided embarrassing gaffes and stick handled her ministries (Labour, Health and now Environment) away from more trouble for the Harris government.

Polling firms suggest that leading contender Eves among party members has an insurmountable lead of 43% with Witmer following at 22%, Clement and Flaherty at 7% each and Stockwell at 6%. All are or were members of cabinet. Eves did not run in the last provincial election. Polls among the general public narrow Eves’ lead over Witmer significantly.

Raised in the rural town of Exeter where she still is known as Elsie (her maiden name is Gosar), Witmer has declared that the Harris Common Sense Revolution, basically a major very controversial realignment in government policies and expenditures, is finished and that today’s challenges are different. She has gained a reputation as a conciliator who tends to seek the middle ground, is known to remain “cool and collected” when facing opposition and made friends among the groups she served as minister. Witmer has been a member of the legislature since 1990 and served on her hometown Waterloo’s Board of Education for ten years, five as chair.

In recent years, Witmer has made a number of speeches to Dutch-Canadian groups and impressed listeners with her policy outlines and response to questions. 

The party’s membership will vote for a new premier on March 23.