The days of the current speaker of the legislature admonishing MPPs to “please be seated,” or “the member for Nepean-Carleton is warned” are coming to an end: Speaker Dave Levac has announced he will not seek re-election, although he intends to serve out the remainder of the current term.
There is always a temptation, when veteran members of the legislature stand down — and especially when they are members of a party that is flat-lining in the polls — to conclude that it’s a sign of a lack of confidence in the leader, the party, the government’s record, or the member’s chances of re-election.
Let me suggest that we should resist this easy but usually misguided conclusion.
Yes, it’s undeniable that the Ontario Liberals are wildly unpopular and have been for several months now. And we can also surmise it’s possible that if Levac had any indication that, if he were re-elected, and if the Liberal party were to form the next government, and if a cabinet post were in the offing, he might not have made the decision to leave Queen’s Park.
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But that’s a lot of “ifs,” and there are certainly no guarantees that any of them, much less all three, will materialize. And so we can’t be shocked — or read too much into the fact — that someone who’s served as an MPP for nearly two decades and as speaker for nearly six years, would decide, at the age of 63, to do something else. Later this week, Levac will become the third-longest-serving speaker of the 41 men who have held the post. (There’s never been a female speaker).
In fact, a good number of Liberal MPPs are no doubt considering the same decision. Joe Dickson is 77 years old and has been an MPP for the last 10 years. Ted McMeekin is almost 70 and has been a member for 17 years. Mike Colle is 72 and Mario Sergio is 76; both have been in the legislature for 22 years. Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and Treasury Board President Liz Sandals are both in their mid-sixties and have been in office since 2003. Michael Chan is 65 and been an MPP for a decade. Bob Chiarelli is 75 and had two stints at Queen’s Park, from 1987-97, and then again starting in 2010. Jim Bradley is 72 years old and has won 11 elections in a row (he’ll celebrate the 40th anniversary of his first election win on June 9). The list goes on.
It seems highly unlikely that the former ministers on this list (McMeekin, Colle, Bradley, Sergio) will be returned to cabinet if they win their seats and the Wynne Liberals are returned to power. So why run? Similarly, ministers such as Matthews and Sandals, both of whom have already had major roles in cabinet, have to ask themselves whether it’s worth it to run again, knowing it’s possible they’ll lose their seats, or even worse, win their seats but be in opposition. Countless politicians have told me over the years that there are few things worse in public life than having the privilege of being in government, responsible for actual policy development and implementation, and then losing all of that.
The point is, it will be tempting in the months ahead to construe every announcement such as Levac’s as another sign of the impending Liberal apocalypse, interpreting retirements as one-time stalwarts fleeing a sinking ship. But the truth is it may have a lot more to do with reaching a stage of life in which long-term MPPs would rather stop and smell the roses, or simply walk away satisfied that they’ve accomplished some of the things they wanted to, and are ready for something else.