Written by Peter Seemann

Ontario’s new cabinet members with Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell (front row centre). (Image obtained from @fordnationdougford, Instagram)

A little less than a year ago, Ontario Premier Doug Ford stood on the steps of Queen’s Park and was sworn in, along with his then-21-member cabinet. I was there with hundreds of others to witness that historic event and was genuinely pleased to see so many of the hard-working MPPs I had campaigned with be promoted to cabinet. This morning, in an attempt to hit the refresh button, a surprisingly large cabinet shuffle was announced, with many new faces becoming ministers, and several more changing portfolios. Knowing the shuffle was coming, one can always expect surprises, but the volume of changes and some of the reassignments caught many off guard, including me.

Cabinet increased in size to 28 after today’s shuffle, including five newly-created Associate Ministries. Only nine members of cabinet, including Premier Ford, kept their original positions. Twelve members of last year’s cabinet changed roles, and there are seven new faces. When the Ford government announced a smaller cabinet last year, they wanted to demonstrate fiscal responsibility compared to their Liberal predecessors. Now it seems there is a realization that more hands are needed to manage the significant work that needs to get done at Queen’s Park.

In recent months, there has been consistent criticism that the government mishandled communications across several key ministries, including Finance, Education, and Children’s Services. Not surprisingly, there were wholesale changes across all of these senior ministries. Former Environment Minister Rod Phillips takes over from Vic Fedeli in Finance. Phillips is largely viewed as having handled his former role well, despite its challenges, and is considered a good communicator – something the government badly needs as they aim to convince Ontarians of the need to slay the deficit. Christine Elliott stays on as Health Minister; however, as anticipated, her ministry was split and Dr. Merilee Fullerton from Ottawa takes on the Ministry of Long Term Care. In addition, the former Minister of Tourism, Michael Tibollo, assumes the newly created role of Associate Minister of Mental Health & Addictions under the Ministry of Health.

New Cabinet Members

Notable new faces include King Vaughan MPP and former PA to the Premier, Stephen Lecce, who received a significant promotion as the new Minister of Education. Lecce is considered to be a hard-working MPP and now assumes a contentious and difficult ministry. I had the chance to get to know Minister Lecce during last year’s election and there are few that campaigned as hard as he did. Barrie-area MPP Doug Downey, another candidate I got to know last year and a solid individual,  becomes the new Attorney General. Downey performed well as the PA to Finance and is well-regarded as someone capable of entering cabinet. Former federal MP and current MPP for Markham Stouffville, Paul Calandra (another York Region MPP), becomes the new Government House Leader.

Ministers with their Original Role

Among members who maintained their previous roles are Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, Energy, Northern Affairs, and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford, and Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman. These ministers managed their files well and were generally free of any controversy during year one of the Ford government’s mandate.

Ministers with Different Roles

Some are suggesting that several ministers, including Caroline Mulroney, Lisa Thompson, and Lisa MacLeod, were demoted to lesser roles in government; however, all of their new ministries have important issues for them to deal with. Todd Smith, largely viewed as a great communicator, takes over from Lisa MacLeod in the role of Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. He has a big task ahead to stickhandle the ongoing autism file, but Premier Ford must feel he’s up for the job.

Despite rampant rumours leading up to this morning’s announcement that members would be fired and there would be resignations and by-elections, there were no departures from cabinet. This is important and bodes well for the Ford government in that he clearly still has caucus support and caucus unity. The next year will be critical for this government as they attempt to improve their polling numbers by doing a better job communicating their priorities to the people of Ontario. I suspect the Premier and his staff planned this shuffle before announcing they would not return to the legislature until the end of October. Two thirds of the cabinet just received volumes of new reading material to review during the summer months.

Organizations have a great opportunity to meet these new ministers over the coming months. Need help communicating with government?

Grassroots Public Affairs can help!

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