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!

I was one of many registered PC delegates who attended last weekend’s AGM in Toronto. Holding a policy convention immediately after an election is not typical, however the party’s constitution mandated one be held. While some media coverage focused on a few controversial policy ideas brought forward, I felt the enthusiastic participation by so many rank and file members was a healthy sign of a party still glowing from political victory.

Over 1000 members from across the province were joined by Premier Ford and his fellow 74 members of caucus. Senior ministers held round table sessions with members and openly discussed their priorities and plans for the new government’s mandate moving forward. Attending conventions gives members unprecedented access to ministers and staff, and I was impressed by the number of caucus members who participated fully in convention activities.

The new government has been clear in the direction they are taking and openly shared, on more than one occasion, the decision-making framework they are focused on, including:

Affordability – cutting taxes, and generally making life more affordable for average Ontarians is a priority across all ministries.

Competitiveness – reflected in the government’s mantra of making Ontario “Open for Business”, this government clearly wants to do everything possible to make Ontario the economic engine of Canada once again. Their initial focus has been on reducing regulations and making it easier for businesses to grow and prosper.

Balance – ensuring a balanced approach towards legislation and regulatory changes that grows the economy while still looking after the best interests of all Ontarians, including social and environmental concerns.

While the first 5 months of this government has not been without some challenges, for the most part the Ford government is pushing forward with a mandate of “governing for the people”. I am enjoying the access I have to so many ministries and welcome the opportunity for worthwhile discussions with key staff and policy makers. Working with industry and the public, this government has an opportunity to rebuild Ontario’s economy and grow our economic base in the coming years. While this convention is early in this government’s mandate, the celebratory mood was well deserved and to be expected.

Peter Seemann, Grassroots Founder & Principal

This afternoon, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli rose in the Ontario Legislature with his iconic gold tie and delivered the 2018 Fall Economic Statement (FES) named An Act to Enact, Amend and Repeal Various Statutes. To examine the Economic Statement in greater detail, click hereThe FES usually takes place during the months of October or November and is somewhat like a mini-budget or a smaller fiscal equivalent of the State-of-the-Union address that the US President delivers to Congress. The FES is traditionally delivered by the Finance Minister and puts forth the status of the province’s fiscal health. There are a number of similarities between the FES delivered in the fall, and the provincial government’s budget that gets tabled in the spring.While both the FES and the provincial budget examine what the government of the day has accomplished, and what obstacles remain in place, the major difference between the two is that the FES looks in the rear-view mirror, and assesses what the government has done, as opposed to the provincial budget, which looks ahead to what the government of the day will do.

The first FES tabled by the new PC government was rather unique this time around, in that, journalists and members of the Press Gallery underwent a media lockup and embargo. They were forbidden to publish content in the statement before it was read in the house. Media lockups are very common during federal and provincial budgets, but it is hard to recall a time when a lockup took place for a FES.

It may  be argued that the broad overall theme of the FES could be distilled into the concept of “fiscal discipline and belt-tightening”, an about-face from the previous Liberal government’s provincial budget, tabled earlier this year, that focused on “care not cuts”. The Finance Minister was not shy to say that the new PC government will approach the province’s finances the same way a household would manage their budget.

Since elected, the PCs have spent a great deal of political capital pointing out the fiscal mismanagement of the previous Liberal government, and have pledged  to reverse many incumbent policies.  This will not come as a surprise to many, considering Doug Ford announced during his  campaign that he would be cutting $6bn in provincial expenditures.

The FES is also an important time for the government to influence the media channel. Polling has shown that while the PCs maintain the greatest share of public support in the province, many of the announcements and actions have reduced support for the government.

Here are some of the major announcements in this year’s Fall Economic Statement:
  • Minister Fedeli announced that the actions of the government have created $3.2bn in savings while reducing the province’s deficit to $14.5B (a reduction of $500m).
  • The government announced it will be implementing the Low-income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) Credit that will affect 1.1m low-income earners in the province. Starting in 2019, workers earning <$30,000.00 will be exempt from paying provincial income tax while those earning up to $38,000.00 will be taxed at a lower rate.
  • In addition to shutting down the College of Trades, the PC government has also axed funding for 3 post-secondary campus Expansions in the GTA.
  • In an attempt to make efficiencies in government, the PCs will merge the independent offices of the Ontario Child Advocate (established in 2007) with the Ombudsman and merge the office of the Environmental Commissioner (established in 1993) with the Auditor General.
  • Twice during his speech, Minister Fedeli stated that the Green Energy Act is being repealed – a statement that drew both cheers and jeers across the aisles.
  • The government announced $90M in funding for 1,100 hospital beds across the province.
  • According to Minister Fedeli, home heating bills have been lowered and gas prices are down 4 cents a litre.
  • As part of the Open for Business Act, the PCs plan to eliminate red tape by 25% by 2022 (no clear definition of ‘red tape’ was provided).
  • Although not much was mentioned on the policy area, Minister Fedeli announced that the PC gov will implement a housing supply action plan to help address the problems in the province’s housing market.
  • The government also announced that it will take a laissez-faire approach to cross-provincial energy infrastructure.
Both the opposition NDP and third party OLP chose to focus on the negative impacts that the proposed $1.4B in cuts will have on those who are already experiencing difficulties. The NDP focused on the government’s labour policies which propose reductions in sick days and removal of the minimum wage. Additionally, the NDP chose to highlight the fact that Indigenous communities and reconciliation were not mentioned in the FES.  OLP Interim Leader John Fraser focused on the lack of support for the Franco-Ontarian community with the closure of a new Franco Ontarian University proposed by the previous government. Both the NDP and the OLP chose to focus on the lack of oversight and accountability the government will experience as a result of the removal of independent legislative offices.It should be noted that a number of media outlets received an advanced copy of former PC Leader Patrick Brown’s new book Takedown. Excerpts from the book show that Fedeli had “dodged a bullet” with respect to an allegation of “inappropriate behavior” by a female PC staffer. In the following hours, numerous current and former PC staffers and MPPs came to the aid of Minister Fedeli. The allegations do not appear to have hurt the Minister, despite the NDP calling for Premier Ford to usher a third-party investigation, and remove Minister Fedeli from Cabinet until such  investigation is concluded. Members of the PC Caucus demonstrated their support for the Finance Minister by wearing yellow/gold ties and scarves.Despite criticism, the PCs are well within their electoral mandate to change or reverse the policies of the previous government. 80% of Ontario voters believed that it was time for change, and the PCs are using this time to implement their own policies “for the people”.

Grassroots will be continuously monitoring the hustle and bustle taking place at the Ontario Legislature in the months to come. Stay tuned for more information and analysis!

Adrian Macaulay, Director of Research & Polling