MEET YOUR NEW MINISTERS
Stewart Kiff | July 2018
Ontario Premier Doug Ford showed he aims for stability at the top when he unveiled his team of ministers on June 29. Thirteen of his 21-member cabinet (pared down from Kathleen Wynne’s last cabinet of 29 members) are Queen’s Park veterans and another served briefly in Stephen Harper’s cabinet.
Most of the big portfolios have been assigned to these experienced politicians. Christine Elliott, Doug Ford’s most serious rival for the PC leadership, will be Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. Long-time finance critic Vic Fedeli is the new Minister of Finance. Lisa MacLeod will head the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services and also be Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues, while Steve Clark takes on Municipal Affairs and Housing. Jim Wilson, who held four different portfolios under Mike Harris and Ernie Eves, will be Minister of Economic Development.
Former PC caucus chair Lisa Thompson takes on the huge education portfolio. It’s interesting to note that her Parliamentary Assistant will be Sam Oosterhoff, who, at age 19, became the youngest MPP ever-elected when he won a 2016 by-election. Oosterhoff is a devout Christian and social conservative who since being elected has actually managed to become conversant in French. (I had a full conversation with him in French this spring – a language he did not speak upon being elected.)
A few newcomers also find themselves at the helm of important ministries. Leadership contender, lawyer and businesswoman Caroline Mulroney becomes Attorney General and also Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. This should be welcome news for the Franco-Ontarian community. Caroline Mulroney will have clout in Cabinet, and although not thoroughly cognizant of Francophone issues in Ontario, she has a general understanding of minority-language matters in Canada. And, of course, she is fluently bilingual. She should also be able to rely on Amanda Simard who has been appointed as her Parliamentary assistant on Francophone Affairs. The young newly elected MPP for Prescott-Russell hails from the Franco-Ontarian community.
It should be noted that Francophone Affairs will no longer be the stand-alone ministry it became a year ago, but will return to its former status as an Office. Although this change certainly represents a symbolic downgrading, we will have to wait for the PC’s first budget to see it the change in status translates into reduced resources. When Kathleen Wynne turned the Office of Francophone Affairs into a full-fledged ministry last year, she did not increase its budget.
Other newcomers should be quick studies in their new jobs thanks to their respective backgrounds. Rod Phillips, former chair of Postmedia and former CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, will tackle the Environment portfolio. Merrilee Fullerton, a medical doctor, won a tough nomination contest in the new riding of Kanata-Carleton and now takes on the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities. She will be overseeing the creation of a Franco-Ontarian University, an initiative that all three parties at Queen’s Park have indicated they support. Although he’s new to the Ontario Legislature, Greg Rickford’s legislative experience at the federal level will no doubt help him perform the delicate balancing act that will be required of him as the new Minister for three previously distinct ministries, namely Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Indigenous Affairs. He will need to reconcile competing interests as he moves to fulfil the PC’s promises to lower electricity and gas prices and to develop the Ring of Fire mining project in Northern Ontario.
All in all, Doug Ford’s cabinet rests on considerable public and private experience, and good regional representation. It has however drawn criticism for its lack of gender parity and diversity with only seven women and one visible minority having a seat on the front benches. Unlike Ontario’s demography, this Cabinet is very dominantly white and male. To be fair, a number of young newcomers, many of whom are women or from various visible minority communities, have been appointed as Parliamentary Assistants. As they gain experience, Doug Ford will have a deeper pool of talent to pick from next time around.
Also criticized by many is the disappearance of the autonomous Ministry for Indigenous Affairs established ten years ago by the Liberals. With reconciliation issues still top of mind and important development projects planned on traditional indigenous territories, this may prove to be a risky decision.
It is also worth noting that although Caroline Mulroney was the only minister to speak in French at the swearing-in ceremony, three other ministers are said to have a good command of the language, namely Peter Bethlenfalvy, Merrilee Fullerton, and Greg Rickford. Doug Ford himself however made no attempt to say a few words in French, neither during the swearing-in nor in his speech on the front steps of the Legislature afterwards. That is a sharp departure from what had become the norm under the Liberals during the last 15 years.
In conclusion, Doug Ford’s message seems to be that, although new, his government is not inexperienced and his team will balance out the fact that he is both a new MPP and a new Premier. We’ll be able to start evaluating if that holds true when the Legislature comes back for a rare summer sitting starting during the second week of July.