Stewart Kiff | June 2016
by Craig Brockwell
The much-anticipated Cabinet shuffle unveiled Monday by Premier Kathleen Wynne allowed her a much-needed re-calibration two years out from the next election.
With her personal popularity as well as her party’s popularity in steady decline, the Premier needed to make these changes. Thanks in part to some generous help from those former members of Cabinet who recently signaled their departure, this new Cabinet appears to meet the Premier’s desired goals, namely moving towards Cabinet gender parity and setting the refresh button in anticipation of the 2018 election.
Not to be overlooked, this type of exercise allows Premiers to signal to the public and pundits some newfound interests or what they perceive to be important for government moving forward. This shuffle clearly served that purpose.
The shuffle provided a little of same old, same old and the aforementioned much needed makeover. Further, the Premier increased Cabinet, which allowed her some latitude in her decision-making but will surely draw the ire of the opposition.
Remaining in the same roles are tried and true as well as steady performers:
- Minister of Finance, Charles Sousa – generally a steady hand on the wheel of Ontario’s fiscal policies;
- Minister of Labour, Kevin Flynn – another steady and capable hand;
- Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Jeff Leal – ditto;
- Minister of Transportation, Steven DelDuca – DITTO AGAIN (but in capitals);
- Minister of Northern Development and Mines, Michael Gravelle – this may be a disappointment for many if not all in the mining sector. However both the Premier and this Minister must now begin doing something if they wish to shore up and retain Northern seats come next election;
- Minister of Health and Long Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins – this had to be a lock given the government’s intention to restructure the Health care system which meant needed continuity and strength;
- Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray – perhaps a surprise but upon a logical analysis the mercurial Minister is really getting his ‘groove’ and appears (after an initial disappointment) to enjoy this role;
- Minister of Economic Development and Growth, Brad Duguid – a marginal change but essentially the same role and because of his steady hand in much of what he has been tasked with and perhaps because of his recent health issues, the Premier leaves him in a critical role and avoids the steep learning curve of a Ministerial move;
- Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, David Zimmer – in spite of the recent name change in this Ministry, the Premier keeps Minister Zimmer in control of a Ministry that he relishes with his own particular zeal;
- Minister of Community and Social Services, Dr. Helena Jaczek – this is perhaps the most surprising appointment as the Minister has had a challenging time in this role and has appeared to have struggled according to her opposition critics. It should be noted however that she grew into the role over her challenges;
- Minister of International Trade, Michael Chan – retains one of his former roles and likely the one he cherished most;
- Minister of Research, Innovation and Science, Reza Moridi – the Minister retains one of his former roles and is likely rewarded due to his thoughtful approach to his responsibilities, his steady hand and his real strength and support for the Party.
Still in Cabinet but changing seats are:
- Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, Deputy Premier and Chair of Cabinet Deb Matthews – This Minister has been the Premier’s Second in Command and a trusted confidante and advisor, so is a no brainer;
- Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, David Orazietti – has quietly gone about his business and is thus rewarded;
- President of the Treasury Board, Liz Sandals – The Premier and Minister Sandals go a long way back and she took on an extremely difficult role and shepherded negotiations in the education sector pretty well;
- Attorney General, Yasir Naqvi – a solid performer and one of the few young faces in the former Cabinet.
- Minister of Infrastructure, Bob Chiarelli – a seasoned veteran who gets moved to a still prominent role albeit one without fire and brimstone like his former role;
- Minister of Children and Youth Services and Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism, Michael Coteau – a lateral move in one responsibility but a steady performer nonetheless;
- Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and Minister Responsible for Accessibility, Tracy MacCharles – ditto as above;
- Minister of Municipal Affairs, Bill Mauro – This Minister was surprisingly strong when he was first rewarded with a Cabinet post and as a consequence remains in Cabinet in a new role;
- Minister Responsible for Seniors Affairs, Dipika Damerla – a soft landing;
- Minister of Education, Mitzi Hunter – this Minister goes from an important role in which she excelled into a challenging role once again. In this role given the work already done before her, she will have some breathing time to get up to speed.
And finally, the new kids on the block are:
- Minister of Government and Consumer Services and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs, Marie-France Lalonde – she was surely a lock for Cabinet. An eastern MPP and Francophone who easily and comfortably slips into the role vacated by Madeleine Meilleur;
- Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault – it was only a matter of time until Minister Thibeault was put into Cabinet following his byelection. However this is both an important and demanding role for which he will have to get up to speed both deftly and quickly;
- Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Eleanor McMahon – again, in my humble opinion a lock to get into Cabinet due to her perceived capability as well as the fact that she won a seat long held by the PC’s;
- Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan), Indira Naidoo-Harris – she is rewarded due in part to her strong communication skills and is given an important role despite it being an Associate posting;
- Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Kathryn McGarry – a Party stalwart deserving of this job.
- Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Laura Albanese – a patient and loyal supporter of the Premier is given a role she was surely made for;
- Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Chris Ballard – again in my humble opinion this appointment was a real surprise other than the fact that he was the PA for his latter role in the area of poverty.
Cabinet creation is a challenging exercise, which creates opportunity and challenges and has often been stated as one of the most difficult tasks a Premier of Prime Minister can ever complete. This newly announced cabinet demonstrates this clearly in its omissions.
Left out of Cabinet are some clearly capable individuals who must surely be disappointed including:
- Yvan Baker – a young up and comer whom many describe as intelligent and appealing to youth;
- Daiene Vernile – had been touted by many to be in line for a Cabinet post and sitting in an riding the Liberals need to retain in order to remain government;
- Soo Wong – a loyal supporter who would not have been out of place in a minor ministerial role;
- John Fraser – a person who knows how government works from the inside out;
- Han Dong – ditto;
- Christina Martins – represents a riding that the Liberals will need to retain in order to remain government and is a match for the Premier’s pledge to be both gender and ethnically representative.
Other than some of the omissions, I believe the Premier has presented a relatively strong Cabinet that goes some way to achieving her target of gender equity (40% are women), retains a level of experience and continuity and presents fresh faces to the electorate.
There are a number of appointed Ministers still holding their previous responsibilities who have been disappointments to their stakeholders because of what they have or have not done. These Ministers must be moved to step up their games or be held on a very short leash. If they don’t perform, then their future departures should provide a landing spot for those bright lights left out of Cabinet this time.
Much of the heavy lifting has been done. Now it will be the task of each of these Ministers to steer a steady course to the next election and ready the way for the good news stories every government needs and wants in laying the groundwork for reelection.
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