The newly elected Speaker of the Ontario legislature says his experience years ago as a school principal will help him referee the often unruly MPPs in the province's first minority government in 25 years.
Liberal MPP Dave Levac was declared Speaker on Monday after members of the legislature cast two secret ballots. It will be up to the 106 MPPs to determine how strictly he enforces the rules of decorum, he told reporters. As a school principal, he said he was fair but tough when he needed to be.
Mr. Levac said he plans to meet monthly with House leaders for all three parties to try to get out in front of issues. "I've always believed that putting out fires is a good thing, but not starting them is even better," he said.
Mr. Levac, 57, beat out three of his caucus colleagues for the plum position, which comes with an annual salary of $152,914 and an apartment in the legislature. Donna Cansfield was the early favourite. But she failed to win enough support after the 17 New Democratic MPPs agreed to vote as a block in favour of Mr. Levac, according to Queen's Park sources.
Ms. Cansfield's bid to become the first woman Speaker in Ontario received a considerable boost earlier this month when Progressive Conservative deputy leader Christine Elliott told reporters she would second her nomination, made by Liberal MPP Monte Kwinter.
Ms. Cansfield earned the respect of many Tories for reaching out to them when she served in the McGuinty government cabinet, first as energy minister and then in the transportation and natural resources portfolios. She once met with Tory MPP Jim Wilson in his constituency office, even though officials in the Premier's Office said they did not want her going into an opposition member's riding, said a source close to her. "She went anyway, and resolved the issue," he said.
But the sources said NDP members and some of Ms. Cansfield's own Liberal colleagues may have been uncomfortable with the fact that she was known as a Red Tory during her days as a school trustee. She was first elected MPP for the riding of Etobicoke Centre in 2003.
Ms. Cansfield said in an interview she is disappointed she didn't win, but she speculated that perhaps members are not quite ready for major change after the outcome of the Oct. 6 provincial election, which left the governing Liberals one seat shy of a majority.
"I think everybody's pretty antsy around a minority government," she said.
Mr. Levac has big shoes to fill. His predecessor, former Liberal MPP Steve Peters, was widely viewed around the provincial legislature as one of its best Speakers in recent memory.
Interestingly, Mr. Levac bears a physical resemblance to Mr. Peters. Both men are tall and cut imposing figures with their mustaches and booming voices. But whether he can live up to Mr. Peters's reputation for fairness and impartiality remains to be seen.
Like his predecessor, Mr. Levac hails from rural Ontario. He is the MPP for the riding of Brant in Southwestern Ontario, where he grew up in a family of seven children. After teaching in elementary and high schools for 12 years, he became principal of a Catholic school in 1989. He was elected MPP ten years later.
His first test as Speaker will begin on Tuesday, when the legislature resumes with a Speech from the Throne.
The other candidates for Speaker were Kevin Flynn and David Zimmer. Mr. Flynn was dropped after the first ballot.