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Ontario Cabinet Update

Premier Ford shuffled six members of his cabinet today. Here’s what you need to know about what’s happening at Queen’s Park.

Jim Wilson (Simcoe-Grey), the dean of Ontario PC caucus and former interim leader, resigned from his role as Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Job Creation, and also resigned from caucus, late Friday to seek treatment for addiction issues.

Todd Smith (Bay of Quinte) becomes Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Job Creation, and remains House Leader. A morning radio news director for over 16 years, Smith is one of the best spokespeople in the Ford government and is regularly sent to the microphone to handle difficult issues. He will be charged with seeing USMCA through to implementation and ensuring Ontario’s new “open for business” mantra is echoed in the halls of state and congressional offices across the U.S. But with this much heavier portfolio, he will rely on Stephen Lecce (King-Vaughan), Deputy House Leader, even more, which is a great opportunity for the rising star.

Bill Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound) becomes the Minister of Government and Consumer Services. Walker served two terms in opposition and will now be tasked with overseeing ServiceOntario and promoting consumer protection.

Michael Tibollo (Vaughan-Woodbridge) becomes the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, trading places with Sylvia Jones (Dufferin-Caledon), who becomes the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services. While some view this as a demotion for Tibollo, this move will give the first-time Minister a chance to get his sea-legs a bit further from the limelight. This portfolio change is also a good fit for the lawyer, who was instrumental in the creation of Italian Heritage Month in Canada. And with Jones’ decade of experience in various critic roles related to community services, she is also well-suited.

The second swap involves Jeff Yurek (Elgin-Middlesex-London) becoming Minister of Transportation, while John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) trades for Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. Both multi-term MPPs with lots of experience from opposition, but Yurek is a suburban pharmacist with an interest in advancing regional transit connectivity. Kinga Surma (Etobicoke Centre), who remains the Parliamentary Assistant for Transportation, will be an asset to Yurek as they work together to keep Ford’s promises on GO Transit and subways.

Veteran politician, Lorne Coe (Whitby) becomes Government Caucus Whip and Doug Downey (Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte) becomes Deputy Government Caucus Whip in recognition of the business lawyer’s strong performance and work ethic. Downey was highlighted by Ford during the campaign as part of a cabinet-ready team, so it is no surprise to see him promoted.

Also of note, a number of Chiefs of Staff were shuffled late last week. The Cabinet shuffle means more change in senior staffing is likely as some Ministers will want their Chief and other key staff to come with them to their new offices. But some staff have become so entrenched in their roles, the Premier’s Office thinks they need to stay where they are to see campaign promises through to implementation. While the shuffle of cabinet and senior staff was precipitated by the abrupt departure of Wilson, it presented the opportunity to correct some of the inevitable growing pains of a new government. Think of this shuffle as a visit to the dentist: you went in for an emergency root canal, but while the dentist had you frozen, she filled some cavities before they became a problem.

What’s next? Look for the province’s Fall Economic Statement next week. It will set the tone for the spring budget and provide important insight into the direction of government for the next six months.

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