Wynne’s Cabinet Shuffle Creates Election Sales Force

Today, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne rejigged her Cabinet in a long-anticipated shuffle. This likely represents the last shift in the Cabinet line up before the June 7 election. The Premier took the opportunity to increase gender parity, accelerate the generational change in the Cabinet and create the sales force for the next election.

The full lists of changes include:

MPP Riding Cabinet Position
Kathryn McGarry Cambridge Minister of Transportation
Steven Del Duca Vaughan Minister of Economic Development & Growth
Eleanor McMahon Burlington President of the Treasury Board
Indira Naidoo-Harris Halton Minister of Education
Mitzie Hunter Scarborough-Guildwood Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Nathalie Des Rosiers Ottawa-Vanier Minister of Natural Resources & Forestry
Daiene Vernile Kitchener-Centre Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Harinder Malhi Brampton-Springdale Minister of the Status of Women
Helena Jaczek Oak Ridges-Markham Chair of Cabinet (retains Ministry of Community and Social Services)

This shuffle was triggered by announcements last year by Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid and Treasury Board Chair Liz Sandals that they would not seek re-election. (Traditionally, Ministers who are not seeking re-election will be moved out to ensure stakeholders believe commitments the Ministry make will be upheld after the election.) While the loss of three veterans MPPs is no boon to the Premier, it also confirms that the all remaining Cabinet Ministers are planning to face voters in June.

Wynne replaced her veterans with three first term MPPs: Harinder Malhi (Brampton-Springdale), left, Nathalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier), and Daiene Vernile (Kitchener-Centre). The addition of three women marginally increased the number of women in cabinet to 13 counting the Premier while 16 of the Ministers are men.

The new Cabinet is a team. Like any team, certain people play certain roles.

  • The Economics team is Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Economic Development Minister Steven Del Duca and Treasury Board President McMahon.  Expect Sosua to talk about a plan that’s working, Del Duca to tout Ontario’s growing run of high tech business wins, and McMahon to push that a strong economy gives us the opportunity and obligation to promote real fairness.
  • New Transportation Minister Kathryn McGarry and Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli will highlight how the Liberals are building Ontario up. Both being from outside Toronto will increase the emphasis on infrastructure, especially transit, outside the 416.
  • Francophones matter to the Liberal coalition. As a constituency that continues to vote Liberal whether urban or rural, Northern or on Bay Street, Francophones represent an important demographic to hold certain ridings. Nathalie Des Rosiers and Marie-France Lalonde will be responsible for communicating to Franco-Ontarians. (Des Rosiers – who represents one of the most urban ridings – was appointed Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry in part because it will get her to numerous Northern and Eastern constituencies where Francophones are a high proportion of the population.)
  • Advanced Education Minister Mitzi Hunter and Education Minister Indira Harris-Naidoo will promote the theme of accessibility for all. From free post-secondary tuition to smaller class sizes, these two Liberals will make the case that the Wynne government rebuilt the ladder of opportunity broken by Mike Harris, and now threatened by Patrick Brown.
  • With 11 seats south of Caledon that have gone as a block with the governing party since 1995, Peel represents the axis on which Ontario elections are often decided. Harinder Malhi gives the Wynne team another spokesperson in the region armed with the credibility of a seat around the Cabinet table.

The PC Party critiqued the continued size of the Executive Council, currently the largest in the country. There were also some raised eyebrows at the urban lawyer Des Rosiers taking on the Natural Resources and Forestry portfolio in a caucus that includes several Northern and rural MPPs. NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson dismissed its significance, calling the shuffle a game of musical chairs that pads the resume of Liberals who might go down in the next election.

Overall, the Cabinet becomes a little younger and more diverse. But what is striking about the departure of Matthews, Duguid and Sandals is all three were elected in the 2003 contest that brought the Ontario Liberal Party to power. Their exit represents a generational change away from Ministers who first campaigned to defeat an existing PC government, and toward those were first elected into a party in power.

Only eight of the thirty members of the new Cabinet have run for a seat at Queen’s Park under a party leader who was not the sitting Premier. Just two (Mike Gravelle and Bob Chiarelli) have served in opposition. The Ontario Liberal antidote to the arrogance that can be the party’s kryptonite is the belief that they will lose without hard work. For fifteen years, the Cabinet believed that the voters naturally prefer a PC Party and it takes work every day to convince them otherwise.

It will be incumbent upon the new leaders in Cabinet to hold onto that humility for the the very difficult political battle that lies just weeks ahead.