Ontario Premier Doug Ford is poised to unveil his cabinet Friday, including a new health minister, as the system continues to struggle from the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr. Ford’s Progressive Conservative government was re-elected in June with a larger caucus, winning seven more seats than in 2018.
With more MPPs to choose from, including 28 new faces, Mr. Ford has a larger pool of candidates, but also faces extra pressure to appoint more ministers, potentially including some from parts of the province where his party made fresh gains.
The new cabinet will also quickly face a series of challenges. A rookie health minister replacing Christine Elliott, who steered the department in the pandemic and left politics before the election, will inherit a system buckling under the pressures created by COVID-19. And whether Education Minister Stephen Lecce is reappointed or replaced, the government is now heading into the political minefield of tough negotiations with teachers’ unions.
Mr. Ford said he consulted Ms. Elliott on who her successor should be in the health portfolio after the party was re-elected.
“We have a lot of work cut out for us,” Mr. Ford said on the issues facing the government.
Karl Baldauf, vice-president of McMillan Vantage Policy Group and former chief of staff for a minister in the Ford government, said he expects a larger cabinet this time around with new positions introduced in an effort to ensure all MPPs feel valued and that they’re contributing to the government’s mandate.
“This is an important issue because when folks don’t feel that they are contributing in a meaningful way, they become agitated,” he said in an interview.
Appointments could come in the form of a spot at the cabinet table, a parliamentary assistant role or the lead of a committee or specific policy issue, he said. All ministers in the previous term who sought re-election won their seats and Mr. Baldauf said the experience is an advantage for the government because they already have familiarity with the key issues and groups involved in the different portfolios.
“If the Premier does have an ambitious agenda and wants to get a lot done over the summer, then I would be skeptical as to how aggressively he will move around the senior ranks of his cabinet,” he said. “I wouldn’t advise moving somebody for the sake of moving them, you have to be very thoughtful because it’s very disruptive anytime a minister is moved.”
The government was already on its third finance minister in just four years, after Peter Bethlenfalvy last year replaced Rod Phillips, who was forced to resign after vacationing in St. Barts during a lockdown. Mr. Phillips had replaced Vic Fedeli, who was moved out after cuts in his 2019 budget to public health and other services prompted an outcry.
Mr. Baldauf said he also expects the cabinet to be more diverse and reflect the people it serves. In Mr. Ford’s first cabinet in 2018, only one visible minority MPP was given a post. By the end of the term, six of the 28 MPPs holding positions in cabinet were people of colour. The outgoing cabinet also included 10 women.
Of the 83 PC MPPs elected, 23 are women and 19 are people of colour and Mr. Baldauf said cabinet should be structured to reflect this diversity. The party also won seats in areas that weren’t represented at the cabinet table over the last four years, including Hamilton, Timmins and Windsor, which Mr. Baldauf said provides an opportunity to bring the interests of those regions forward.
Dennis Matthews, a PC campaign strategist who is vice-president of the communications and lobbying firm Enterprise Canada, said the new cabinet is an opportunity for Mr. Ford, who took over a team largely assembled by his predecessor in 2018, to further cement his own leadership.
He has done so with cabinet shuffles twice before: In 2019, after a poorly received first budget and other missteps, and in 2021, when he removed several ministers amid disagreement over lockdown measures.
“Over the four years, the party has become more the party of Doug Ford,” Mr. Matthews said. “This is his moment to surround himself with the team that he would want.”
Mr. Ford confirmed Tuesday the legislature will reconvene this summer to debate the 2022-23 budget, which was introduced but not passed during the government’s previous term.
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