TORONTO – In a bid to restart his government’s narrative in the wake of polls that show his popularity plummeting to levels rivalling that of his Liberal predecessor, Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford has conducted a major shuffle of his cabinet that demoted key ministers to less high profile portfolios, promoted some backbenchers to top roles and left a relative few unscathed.
The most high profile move that had the pundits chattering was dumping North Bay MPP and one-time interim leader Vic Fedeli from the post of Finance Minister to that of Economic Development. The cuts contained in Mr. Fedeli’s inaugural budget are largely credited with the nosedive in the premier’s popularity.
Lisa Thompson has been moved from Education to Government and Consumer Services, another post whose cuts were anathema to the public perception of his government and will likely continue to plague her successor.
Lisa MacLeod has been moved from Children, Community and Social Services to Tourism, Culture and Sport.
Merrilee Fullerton has been moved from Training, Colleges and Universities to Long-term Care, which was previously part of the Ministry of Health. The cabinet shuffle did include some key ministry changes as well.
Michael Tibollo has been moved from Tourism, Culture and Sport to a new junior portfolio of Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions.
Bill Walker has been moved from Government and Consumer Services to another new junior portfolio of Associate Minister of Energy.
Among those moving up the government food chain were Rod Phillips, who was catapulted from Environment into the hotseat of Finance.
Backbenchers were on the move, with Stephen Lecce being moved up from obscurity to Education; Doug Downey up to Attorney General; Doug Ford loyalist and Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano has been promoted to Training, Colleges and Universities; Kinga Surma is taking on the new junior portfolio of Associate Minister of Transportation (GTA); Jill Dunlop will move into the new junior portfolio of Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues; Prabmeet Sarkaria will now occupy the new junior portfolio of Associate Minister of Small Businesses and Red Tape Reduction; and Paul Calandra will travel from the back benches to government House Leader.
In what could be considered more lateral moves, Caroline Mulroney will go from Attorney General to Transportation; Jeff Yurek will move from Transportation to Environment; Todd Smith will move from Economic Development to Children, Community and Social Services; Laurie Scott will move from Labour to Infrastructure and Monte McNaughton will move from Infrastructure to Labour.
This rearrangement of chairs around the cabinet table is widely seen as a tacit admission of failure by the premier and the firing of his finance minister after his first (a post usually considered a sinecure for the term of most governments) is nearly unprecedented. That Mr. Fedeli agreed to remain in cabinet is being seen by a number of observers as a testament to his party loyalty—his total loss from cabinet (as was being reported by some media sources prior to the shuffle) would likely have signalled the start of a rebellion in the Tory ranks.
As it is, Mr. Ford has attempted to find peace in the valley by shutting down the legislature for five months, until after the upcoming October federal election—a move that is in itself almost without precedent in modern provincial politics.
With the federal Liberals, NDP and Green Party members eager to link federal Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer to a provincial premier that is less popular than former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne in the final days of her government Premier Ford may well find the formula for peace in the polls more elusive than a government shutdown and a major shuffle can provide.