Ford Shuffles Cabinet: Election Season Underway

Nearly two years since his first major Cabinet shuffle, Premier Doug Ford has re-arranged his Executive Council as the 2022 election draws near. With a bigger Cabinet, fresh faces, and some notable departures, StrategyCorp has analyzed what it all means.

Promotions

As expected, the Ford government has once again split the two major finance portfolios, returning to both a stand-alone Minister of Finance and President of the Treasury Board. The Premier has opted to keep Peter Bethlenfalvy at the helm of Finance, a role he assumed after Rod Phillips’ resignation late last year. Prabmeet Sarkaria secures perhaps the biggest promotion out of this shuffle, taking on the role of President of the Treasury Board after his resounding success as Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. Sarkaria will be one to watch as he holds a strategically important Brampton riding and is widely considered a rising star in Progressive Conservative circles.

Another notable promotion is Jill Dunlop’s move to Minister of Colleges and Universities, replacing Ross Romano who moves to Government and Consumer Services. Dunlop’s strong performance as Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues positions her well to manage post-secondary education – a portfolio that will take on new importance as the government works towards training and re-training Ontarians to meet the demands of pandemic recovery efforts.

After six months in the penalty box, Rod Phillips makes his return to Cabinet, taking on the politically hot long-term care portfolio. Phillips has his work cut out for him as the government’s plan for long-term care coming out of the pandemic will no doubt be a top election issue – a sign of the Premier’s continued confidence in his politically tested former Finance minister.

Other notable promotions include Phillips’ former Parliamentary Assistant at the Ministry of Finance, Stan Cho. A strong communicator and top performer, Cho has been a long-presumed Cabinet front runner. He takes on the role of Associate Minister of Transportation, with the incumbent, Kinga Surma, being promoted to Minister of Infrastructure.

Cho isn’t the only new face around the Cabinet table. Nina Tangri, Parm Gill, David Piccini, Jane McKenna, and Kaleed Rasheed all rise to the ranks of the Executive Council. Some of these promotions support members in key ridings for the next election, like Cho in Willowdale, Tangri and Rasheed in Mississauga, and Gill in Milton. Others, like McKenna and Piccini, follow their strong performance in their respective Parliamentary Assistant roles. Each of the six new ministers hail from a riding the PC Party did not hold prior to the 2018 election.

Movements

The promotion of Rod Phillips to Minister of Long-Term Care creates a chain reaction across multiple portfolios. Former Minister of Long-Term Care, Merillee Fullerton, moves over to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, with incumbent Minister Todd Smith assuming the Energy portfolio. Both Fullerton and Smith have faced tough opposition in their previous roles, Fullerton for the state of long-term care during the pandemic and Smith for the government’s approach to funding social services, notably for families of children with autism. New faces in these portfolios should help the government reset and gain control of these narratives before the next election.

Smith’s move to Energy brings him back to a portfolio he knows well – he was the Energy critic for the Progressive Conservatives while in opposition. At the time, hydro prices were the top political issue. The 2022 election likely will not be won or lost over electricity prices, but the Ford government still has an outstanding campaign promise to reduce rates by 12 per cent. Adding to the complication of this file is that these rates are now subsidized to the tune of nearly $6.5 billion per year. While Smith will almost certainly be pleased with his new role, the strong communicator and experienced politician still has his work cut out for him.

With a stand-alone Ministry of Energy, Greg Rickford’s portfolio also sees some changes. Replacing his responsibility for Energy is Natural Resources and Forestry, adding to his existing responsibilities for Indigenous Affairs and Northern Development and Mines. The government refers to Rickford’s new portfolio as a “northern and economic focused ministry”, reflecting the continued importance of the North to the Progressive Conservative government.

Departures

Five longtime PC caucus members exit Cabinet in today’s shuffle: Ernie Hardeman, Laurie Scott, John Yakabuski, Bill Walker and Jeff Yurek. Each of these former ministers hail from ridings the PC Party has been very successful in historically. Though experience will be lost around the Cabinet table, the PCs are unlikely to feel significant political consequences for these decisions. Reports leading up to the shuffle suggested the Premier was unhappy with some rural ministers who pushed for re-opening too soon; these same reports also pointed to a government that intended to bring fresh energy and diversity to Cabinet by promoting more women, younger caucus members, and people of colour. The geographic pattern of the refreshed Cabinet is symbolic as it better represents urban and suburban areas where the next election will be fought instead.

What does this mean?

To be blunt, this is the first true Doug Ford Cabinet. Coming out of the 2018 election results, and even the 2019 shuffle, Premier Ford was faced with a cadre of experienced parliamentarians expecting their turn at the table and a number of ‘star’ candidates like Rod Phillips and Caroline Mulroney who were all but shoe-ins for Cabinet roles. Though the Premier certainly had tough decisions to make in 2018, he had only been leader of the Party for four months and was choosing from a list of members he did not know well personally.

Fast forward to the 2019 shuffle and Premier Ford was faced with tough polling numbers and the need for a reset. The main move, at the time, was to replace struggling Finance and Education Ministers. Expanding Cabinet was both a strategic move and one designed to steady the ship as the Premier attempted to both hit the reset button and instill confidence in caucus.

Now, for the first time, the Premier is able to construct a Cabinet based on the direction he wants to take the Party and on his personal evaluations of performance. The Cabinet got progressively younger, more diverse, and more urban all in one swoop. However, at the exact same time, the key Ministers stayed the same. Many of the main ministers responsible for the government’s pandemic response are staying put, including Christine Elliott, Sylvia Jones, Peter Bethlenfalvy, Vic Fedeli, Caroline Mulroney, Steve Clark, Monte McNaughton, Lisa MacLeod, and Stephen Lecce.

Status quo in the education portfolio is notable, as Lecce has faced fierce opposition from teachers unions both during and before the pandemic – so much so that the unions are organizing against him in his own riding of King—Vaughan. However, Lecce has proven himself to be one of the Premier’s most reliable Ministers. As education will no doubt be a focus as the government comes out of the pandemic and into the next election, a steady hand is needed at the wheel.

This is true of many of today’s changes: the files that are likely to continue to be critical to the government’s re-election chances stay in the hands of politically tested ministers while the files that are less visible, less fundamental to the PC brand, or focused on the internal machinery of government will be filled by new ministers or associate ministers now promoted to full portfolios. Ultimately, as decisions impacting the next election, budget, and platform approach, the inner circle remains the same – perhaps slightly larger with the additions of Smith and Phillips in key roles. The outer circle, however, looks a whole lot different.

 

List of Cabinet Promotions

Hon. Prabmeet Sarkaria, President of the Treasury Board

Previously, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction

Hon. Rod Phillips, Minister of Long-Term Care

Previously, MPP for Ajax, former Minister of Finance

Hon. Stan Cho, Associate Minister of Transportation (Transit-Oriented Communities)

Previously, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Finance

Hon. Kinga Surma, Minister of Infrastructure

Previously, Associate Minister of Transportation

Hon. Nina Tangri, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction

Previously, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation, and Trade

 Hon. Jill Dunlop, Minister of Colleges and Universities

Previously, Associate Minister of Children and Woman’s Issues

Hon. Parm Gill, Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism

Previously, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing

Hon. David Piccini, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks

Previously, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Colleges and Universities

Hon. Jane McKenna, Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues

Previously, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Labour, Training, and Skills Development

Hon. Kaleed Rasheed, Associate Minister of Digital Government

Previously, Deputy Government Whip

 

List of Cabinet Movements

Hon. Merillee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services

Previously, Minister of Long-Term Care

Hon. Greg Rickford, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry

Previously, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines

Hon. Todd Smith, Minister of Energy

Previously, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services

Hon. Ross Romano, Minister of Government and Consumer Services

Previously, Minister of Colleges and Universities

Hon. Lisa Thompson, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Previously, Minister of Government and Consumer Services

 

List of Cabinet Departures

Hon. Ernie Hardeman, former Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

Hon. Laurie Scott, former Minister of Infrastructure

Hon. John Yakabuski, former Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry

Hon. Bill Walker, former Associate Minister of Energy

Hon. Jeff Yurek, former Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks