Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s new cabinet features Sylvia Jones in the key roles of Health Minister and Deputy Premier, and includes his nephew as Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism – the latter move drawing Opposition criticism for nepotism and overlooking racialized members of his caucus.
Mr. Ford’s appointed ministers, unveiled on Friday, are otherwise mostly unchanged after the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected on June 2 with an even larger majority than four years ago – prompting both main opposition leaders to quit. However, the cabinet faces a range of mounting challenges: Inflation continues to rise, education unions are going into contract talks and the province’s health system is reeling from the COVID-19 crisis.
Ms. Jones, the long-time MPP for Dufferin-Caledon and the solicitor-general for most of the government’s first term, replaces Christine Elliott, who announced shortly before the election that she was leaving politics after overseeing the Ministry of Health during the pandemic.
The new minister, who in her previous role defended an unsuccessful move to appoint a family friend of the Premier’s as head of the OPP, must now grapple with widespread concern over jammed emergency rooms and health care staff shortages – and the potential for yet another wave of COVID-19.
The appointment of former Toronto city councillor Michael Ford, the Premier’s 28-year-old nephew and now a rookie MPP for York South-Weston, was panned by the Opposition NDP.
“There are plenty of people, people of colour, in Ford’s caucus that could take that position,” NDP MPP for Niagara Centre Jeff Burch said, referring to the multiculturalism role. “And he chose to appoint his nephew.”
Mr. Burch added that the number of women ministers was also troubling. The new cabinet of 30 includes seven women, down from 10. It also includes six racialized people, the same number as at dissolution.
Surrounded by reporters after a swearing-in ceremony Friday on the steps of Queen’s Park, the Premier dismissed the notion that his nephew was unqualified, saying he had political experience and a “wealth of knowledge.”
The younger Mr. Ford was first elected to public office as a Toronto District School Board trustee in December, 2014, before serving six years on Toronto City Council. Speaking to The Globe and Mail, he pointed to his experience both on council and the school board, and said he had worked with many different communities while representing a very diverse area.
“I have been honoured to do good work for the residents of Toronto for the last eight years, and I am just going to continue to do that,” he said.
Peter Bethlenfalvy, Mr. Ford’s third Finance Minister, remains in his post. The government is expected to convene a summer session to pass the budget it introduced, but did not pass, before the election. Mr. Bethlenfalvy would not say Friday when that would happen, or whether the original budget would be revised based on increasing inflation and a darkening economic outlook. However, he said it would be amended to include a 5-per-cent increase in social assistance for people with disabilities, which the party pledged in the campaign.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce also stays put, leaving him to manage contentious labour talks with the teachers and education-workers’ unions. Speaking with reporters after the swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Lecce said his “personal mandate” will be to keep students in class.
Monte McNaughton remains Labour Minister, where he was credited with spearheading pro-worker legislation that won the PC Party some union endorsements. Steve Clark remains Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
In addition to the younger Mr. Ford, five other newly elected MPPs won cabinet posts, including some from areas where the PC party made inroads in the June election.
Neil Lumsden, a former Canadian Football League player who won a seat for the PCs in NDP territory in Hamilton East–Stoney Creek, was named Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. The former Timmins mayor, George Pirie, was named Minister of Mines, “with a mandate to develop the Ring of Fire” in Northern Ontario. Graydon Smith, the former Bracebridge mayor, is Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. The new PC MPP for the Toronto riding of York Centre, Michael Kerzner, was named Solicitor General as Ms. Jones’ replacement.
Charmaine Williams, the first Black woman elected to Brampton city council and now the new PC MPP for Brampton Centre, was named associate minister of women’s social and economic opportunity.
Ministers returning to the backbenches include Lisa MacLeod, who had been moved to Tourism in the last term after a stint in the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services that put her at odds with parents of autistic children who have been fighting for government support.
Shortly after Friday’s cabinet announcement, Ms. MacLeod said in a statement she would be taking “some time off” to improve her mental and physical health but intends to stay on as MPP.
The NDP revealed during the spring election campaign that Ms. MacLeod received more than $44,000 in allowances from her riding association, one of several PC MPPs to do so. Mr. Ford said during the campaign he was “frustrated” to learn of the practice and said he would put an end to it.
During the ceremony and the Premier’s brief speech afterward, about a dozen protesters against the government’s autism program could occasionally be heard chanting from behind the barricades.
Mississauga-Streetsville MPP Nina Tangri, who had been associate minister of small business and red tape reduction, has decided to stand for election as speaker of the Legislature, said Ivana Yelich, a Premier’s Office spokesperson. The post is elected by a secret ballot of MPPs. If successful, Ms. Tangri would be the first woman in the role.
The current Speaker, long-time PC MPP for Wellington-Halton Hills Ted Arnott, said Friday he would also put his hat in the ring again.
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