Shuffle Brings 7 Fresh Faces and 10 Shuffled Ministers, But Continuity in Key Portfolios

Ontario’s cabinet is larger and more diverse, with Premier Kathleen Wynne elevating seven backbenchers to the Executive Council and expanding its number to 30 in a major shuffle as the Liberals enter the second half of their four-year mandate.

At a Queen’s Park ceremony on the morning of June 13th, Wynne emphasized the new energy her cabinet brings, along with her commitment to getting closer to gender parity with a cabinet that is now 40 per cent women.

A number of older members of cabinet—mainstays of the McGuinty years—began announcing their departure in the week leading up to the shuffle. These included Ted McMeekin (Ancaster Dundas Flamborough Westdale), Madeleine Meilleur (Ottawa Vanier), Mario Sergio (York West), and Jim Bradley (St. Catherine’s).

In each of their departures, all carefully managed and staggered by the Premier’s Office, departing members emphasized the need to make room for fresh faces and new energy.

This focus on fresh faces and new energy is very much how the Premier is positioning her re-shuffled cabinet, and it is clear from both the number of promotions and from the ridings held by the backbenchers she promoted, that the Liberals are shifting their focus to re-election and defending their majority in the face of a dip in popularity.

The bulk of the new members of cabinet are from ridings the Liberals picked up in the 2014 election (or in by-elections following), and which they will need to hold on to in the next campaign. They include:

• Glenn Thibeault (Sudbury) – now Minister of Energy. Thibeault, a former federal MP for the NDP, is highly regarded at Queen’s Park and his elevation to his new Cabinet portfolio can be considered the most significant promotion of this shuffle.

• Eleanor McMahon (Burlington) – now Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.

• Chris Ballard (Newmarket Aurora) – now Minister of Housing, with responsibility for the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

• Kathryn McGarry (Cambridge) – now Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

• Indira Naidoo-Harris (Halton) – now Associate Minister of Finance with responsibility for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.

Other new members of Cabinet are:

• Laura Albanese (York South Weston in Toronto) – now Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

• Marie-France Lalonde (Ottawa Orléans) – now Minister of Government and Consumer Services, and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs.

For existing members of the Cabinet, there were few obvious demotions and quite a few promotions. Some significant changes to portfolios include:

• Deb Matthews (London North Centre) remains Deputy Premier, but takes on a newly created Ministry called Advanced Education and Skills Development—likely encompassing much of the former Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities. In this portfolio, Matthews will manage a number of key political relationships with labour groups primarily in the trades. The shift in the focus of the Premier’s key lieutenant away from short-term austerity priorities to more long-term and forward-looking economic growth is indicative of the Premier’s desire to align her new cabinet around her long-term economic plan. Matthews will also spearhead a significant new “Digital Government” initiative that the government has recently taken on, and will serve as Chair of Cabinet.

• Replacing Matthews at Treasury Board is Liz Sandals (Guelph). No stranger to labour negotiations while Minister of Education—and the government’s ongoing commitment to achieving “net-zero” outcomes in those negotiations—she will lead the government’s efforts to meet its deficit reduction targets.

• Replacing Sandals at Education is Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough Guildwood). A relatively new cabinet minister, Hunter is held in high regard for her handling of the pensions file while Associate Minister of Finance.

• Ottawa Minister Bob Chiarelli (Ottawa West Nepean) moves from Energy to the new Ministry of Infrastructure, back to being a standalone ministry. With the province’s significant infrastructure investments, Chiarelli will play a prominent role not only in communications, but in coordinating investments with the federal government and municipalities.

• As one of only a small number of lawyers in the Liberal caucus, Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre) has been promoted to Attorney General—confirming a move that was the subject of much cabinet shuffle speculation. He will also serve as Government House Leader.

• David Orazietti (Sault Ste. Marie) has been promoted to Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services.

• Bill Mauro (Thunder Bay Atikokan) becomes Minister of Municipal Affairs, a portfolio he held for a short time prior to the 2014 election.

While there are many new faces in cabinet—as well as older faces taking on new portfolios—the Premier has maintained continuity in a number of key files, including Finance and Health:

• Charles Sousa (Mississauga South) retains the Finance portfolio, and the Treasury Board remains carved off with a separate minister.

• Eric Hoskins (St. Paul’s in Toronto) remains the Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. However, we will see some change in this portfolio as there is no longer an Associate Minister of Long-Term Care and Wellness, with these files returning to his purview. Clearly the Premier was looking for continuity in the health portfolio given the ongoing and contentious negotiations with the province’s doctors, as well as recently introduced legislation that will bring home care and primary care under the control of the Local Health Integration Networks.

• Glen Murray (Toronto Centre) remains Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and will oversee the implementation of one of the province’s most significant policy initiatives of this mandate, the Climate Change Action Plan, and the implementation of cap-and-trade.

• Brad Duguid (Scarborough Centre) remains Minister of Economic Development and Growth. His prior responsibility for the province’s accessibility initiatives will now go Tracy MacCharles (Pickering Scarborourgh East).

• Steven Del Duca remains Minister of Transportation.

• Reza Moridi (Richmond Hill) remains Minister of Research and Innovation—with his post-secondary education and skills training responsibilities now going to Deb Matthews.

• Jeff Leal (Peterborough) remains Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

• Mike Gravelle (Thunder Bay Superior North) remains Minister of Northern Development and Mines.

• David Zimmer (Willowdale in Toronto) retains his portfolio, renamed two weeks ago as Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.

• Michael Chan (Markham Unionville) remains responsible for international trade, now a standalone ministry.

• Kevin Flynn (Oakville) remains Minister of Labour.

• Helena Jaczek (Oak Ridges Markham) remains Minister of Community and Social Services.

• Premier Kathleen Wynne retains the Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio

Additional changes to Cabinet are:

• Michael Coteau (Don Valley East) becomes Minister of Children and Youth Services, where he will take on the autism file and lead the government’s management of its controversial service changes. He will also be Minister Responsible for Anti-Racism.

• Dipika Damerla (Mississauga East Cooksville) becomes Minister Responsible for Seniors Affairs.

• Tracy MacCharles (Pickering Scarborough East) becomes Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and Minister Responsible for Accessibility.

All told, with seven new members of cabinet and 10 ministers taking on new portfolios, this shuffle can certainly be considered a major one, and a clear attempt on the part of the Liberals to hit reset as they attempt to regain some of their lost popularity in advance of the next campaign, now less than two years away.

Already being labelled a “bloated” cabinet by the Opposition—and now consisting of more than half the Liberal caucus—it is worth paying attention to what some have labelled Wynne’s “inner cabinet,” her Priorities, Delivery, and Growth Committee. The members of this key agenda-setting committee are:

• Kathleen Wynne (Chair)
• Deb Matthews
• Brad Duguid
• Liz Sandals
• Charles Sousa
• Eric Hoskins
• Mitzie Hunter
• Steven Del Duca
• Marie-France Lalonde
• Glenn Thibeault

With extensive networks across government and in each of the offices of the province’s 30 cabinet ministers, Hill+Knowlton Strategies consultants are well-positioned to support the advocacy efforts of our clients and to advise on how to effectively reach provincial government audiences. We will continue to monitor the transition in these offices and work closely with our clients to deliver the kinds of results that have made us the industry leader in public affairs.

For the complete list of cabinet ministers and their biographies click here.