Just after the first anniversary of Premier Ford’s election, the Government of Ontario is hitting refresh. After a relentless pace of activity, the government has risen for the summer and will resume after October’s federal election with a shuffled and enlarged Cabinet.
What are the Ford government’s new priorities?
There is no escaping the obvious: Ford and his government are down in the polls and they must make significant changes to reclaim the narrative.
The size and scope of this shuffle are an acknowledgement by the Premier’s Office that their time governing thus far has not gone as well as they had hoped. Today’s cabinet reset clearly indicates the Ford government knows they have policy and communications challenges, and they are moving their best communicators into new roles to fix them.
The autism file in particular has had a tremendously negative impact on perceptions of the government. Moving Todd Smith (MPP, Bay of Quinte) into this role is meant to send a clear signal to parents and service providers that the government takes this file very seriously. A former radio host, House Leader, and senior cabinet minister, Smith is an experienced communicator who demonstrated his value to Ford as one of his key spokespeople during the election campaign.
The same is true for Education. Negotiations with Ontario teachers begin this fall and tensions are already mounting. A strong communicator and negotiator is needed in this role and Minister Stephen Lecce fits the bill as a young and dynamic former professional communicator in Stephen Harper’s office.
What do the other moves mean?
The shuffling of Vic Fedeli from Finance to Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade is the strongest indicator that the Ford government is concerned about its standing in the public eye. The budget roll-out was widely criticized for reducing social spending as a means to reduce Ontario’s significant deficit, rather than attracting positive coverage for its moderate approach. The removal of such an experienced and long-serving politician from the portfolio after only one Budget is unprecedented. Management of the budget is at the core of every government’s mandate. To remove a Finance Minister this early in the mandate is an acknowledgment by the Premier that his government’s management of the province’s economic affairs has not met expectations.
The new Finance Minister, Rod Phillips, is a savvy political communicator and has significant experience managing the machinery of government to deliver on policy outcomes. The former head of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, Phillips demonstrated his value to the Ford government for overseeing its reforms to Ontario’s environmental policies, including unwinding carbon pricing. As Finance Minister, Phillips can be expected to be seen “front and centre” communicating the government’s agenda but also behind the scenes shepherding the government’s policy development and fiscal framework.
The Attorney General position also sees a new face in experienced lawyer, Doug Downey, with Caroline Mulroney moving to Transportation while maintaining Francophone Affairs. Downey led the development of a blueprint to reform Ontario’s auto insurance in the government’s first budget and is expected to continue the implementation of the legal elements of insurance reforms as Attorney General.
The creation of several Associate Minister positions allows the Ford government to promote members who performed well in the first year of the mandate while setting them up for success by exposing them to cabinet without too much risk. These appointments are a forecast of the future of the Ford government and will likely operate similarly to federal Ministers of State roles.
What can we expect over the summer?
This summer “break” won’t involve much rest. MPPs are returning to their ridings to hear from their constituents, and government committees and bi-weekly cabinet meetings will continue. The government did not prorogue, which means all the legislation currently tabled will be continued in the fall along with a significant amount of new legislation.
This is an important time for government relations activities as new Ministers and their staff need to be briefed up by stakeholders on their key issues. If you have been working with a Ministry that now has a fresh face, this summer is the time to get in front of them and build a positive relationship for what we expect to be a very busy fall sitting. And, if you were expecting an imminent announcement, you will want to regroup as new Ministers will inevitably want to put their own stamp on anything forthcoming. It is also very likely that we will see more staff change positions over the summer.
But will they be able to stay away? Negotiations with Ontario teachers could be a flashpoint, and any strike action may require the Legislature to be recalled. An appeal of Bill 5, Better Local Government Act, 2018, which reduced the size of Toronto city council, is being heard. If the Court rules against the government, the Legislature may have to return to enact Bill 31, Efficient Local Government Act, 2018, which is the legislation that invokes the Notwithstanding clause of the Constitution. Finally, the Beer Store negotiations could face an investor state challenge under NAFTA, which would require Cabinet to return to proclaim Bill 115, Bringing Choice and Fairness to the People Act (Beverage Alcohol Retail Sales), 2019.
Consultations on the Fall Economic Statement have already commenced and will continue with stakeholders throughout the summer. With the Legislature risen, this is an opportune time to bring ideas to government. There will be a red tape reduction bill introduced in the fall, which means Vic Fedeli, as the new Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, will be keen to receive new proposals that would lower the regulatory burden for businesses. As well, Minister Lisa Thompson will engage stakeholders on Real Estate and Business Brokers’ Act reforms.
Full New Cabinet
Premier and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs – Doug Ford
Deputy Premier and Minister of Health – Christine Elliott
Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions – Michael Tibollo
Minister of Long-Term Care – Merrilee Fullerton
Minister of Finance – Rod Phillips
Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and Chair of Cabinet – Vic Fedeli
Associate Minister of Small Businesses and for Red Tape Reduction – Prabmeet Sarkaria
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing – Steve Clark
Solicitor General – Sylvia Jones
Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks – Jeff Yurek
Minister of Children, Community and Social Services – Todd Smith
Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues – Jill Dunlop
Minister of Labour – Monte McNaughton
Attorney General – Doug Downey
Minister of Transportation and Minister of Francophone Affairs – Caroline Mulroney
Associate Minister of Transportation (GTA) – Kinga Surma
Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities – Ross Romano
Minister of Education – Stephen Lecce
President of the Treasury Board – Peter Bethlenfalvy
Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry – John Yakabuski
Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Minister of Indigenous Affairs – Greg Rickford
Associate Minister of Energy – Bill Walker
Minister of Seniors and Accessibility – Raymond Cho
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – Ernie Hardeman
Minister of Infrastructure – Laurie Scott
Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport – Lisa MacLeod
Minister of Government and Consumer Services – Lisa Thompson
Government House Leader – Paul Calandra