Earlier this week, Ottawa political circles were greeted by the surprise news that two-term MP Michael Levitt had submitted his intention to resign as the representative for York Centre.
First elected in 2015, Levitt quickly became a strong voice for Jewish Canadians – co-sponsoring legislation in the House which designated the month of May as Jewish Heritage Month. He will be resigning his seat to take on the new role as president and CEO of the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies.
Respected on all sides of the political aisle, Michael Levitt is a popular Member of Parliament and is well-liked by his constituents. Having created the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee before being elected to office, Levitt is the Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the chair of the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group. His national leadership on Parliament Hill and local representation in York Centre will be missed.
With the House of Commons in a minority government, Levitt’s departure has the potential to change Canada’s federal political landscape.
The timing of Mr. Levitt’s departure from the House coincides with the conclusion of the CPC leadership race, which is likely to see one of two CPC veterans take the helm: Erin O’Toole or Peter MacKay. While O’Toole currently holds a safe seat in Durham, MacKay, who does not have a seat in the House of Commons, may have eyes on the new vacancy in York Centre.
As a leading contender in the Conservative Party of Canada’s (CPC) leadership election, Maritimer Peter MacKay currently lives in Toronto and could consider running in this byelection should he win his party’s race for leader.
While York Centre chose the liberal Levitt in 2015 and 2019, the riding had a Conservative Member of Parliament from 2011 to 2015. In a close race, Levitt beat the CPC MP in 2015 by just over 1200 votes, going on to win again in 2019 by almost 6000 votes.
Some conservatives believe that MacKay, if he can win the CPC leadership later this month, may have a chance to reclaim this conservatively-accessible Toronto area seat in a byelection.
Facing a genuine public health crisis, the Prime Minister may not call a byelection during a pandemic. Delaying a local vote in York Centre could also have the added strategic benefit of denying Peter MacKay an opportunity to re-enter the House of Commons in a timely fashion.
Social conservative Leslyn Lewis, a Toronto area lawyer with a PhD in Law, has run an efficient leadership campaign with the support of social conservatives.
Speculation is that, whether her fundraising and organizing success leads to a CPC leadership victory or not, she may also consider running in York Centre.
The Prime Minister has six months from MP Levitt’s official resignation date of September 1st to call a byelection.
With most minority governments only lasting approximately eighteen months, it will be interesting to monitor whether Prime Minister Trudeau delays a possible pandemic byelection to the spring.