After rumours broke late last evening, this morning Ontario’s Minister of Health and Deputy Premier Hon. Christine Elliott formally announced via Twitter that she informed Premier Doug Ford she will not seek re-election in the upcoming Ontario campaign.
In this announcement, Minister Elliott noted that she will remain in her position as Minister of Health for the remaining months of her term – ensuring stability in a key portfolio in the lead-up to the 2022 election. The announcement appears to have been thoughtfully timed and rolled out, suggesting it was less of a surprise to senior staff in the Premier’s Office than the recent resignation of Rod Phillips as Minister of Long-Term Care and MPP for Ajax. Indeed, there has been past speculation about the Minister’s intent to stay in the role – and four years is a long time for any MPP to serve as Health Minister, even without the impacts of a global pandemic to manage.
Since her first election in 2006 Minister Elliott has served 13 years as MPP. A long-time advocate for people with mental health challenges and special needs, she was appointed Opposition Health Critic in 2009 following her first unsuccessful bid to be Progressive Conservative Leader. She held this Critic role until 2015, when she stepped away from politics for nearly three years after being appointed Ontario’s first Patient Ombudsman by then-Premier Kathleen Wynne.
After a second attempt at securing the PC leadership in 2018, Minister Elliott returned as MPP for Newmarket—Aurora in that year’s general election. Premier Ford appointed Elliott, his closest leadership rival, to the key portfolios of Health and Deputy Premier. Widely regarded as one of the best-respected and most influential members of Premier Doug Ford’s Cabinet, and with a reputation for working well across party lines, her resignation is sure to be seen as a blow for the Premier and will be a loss for the health portfolio.
Minister Elliott’s resignation also brings an end to a political dynasty. She and her husband, the late Ontario and Federal Cabinet Minister Jim Flaherty, were a political power couple – having both served in the Ontario Cabinet, both run for leadership of the Ontario PC party, and serving together at different levels of government at the same time (Flaherty as federal Finance Minister, Elliott as MPP).
What does this mean for our public affairs work?
With Minister Elliott remaining as Minister of Health until the election, most of her staff will likely retain their posts through to the campaign period. As always, civil servants are expected to remain even beyond the June election.
As the writ period has drawn nearer, the possibility that there would be a new Minister – or even a new government – has been clear; today’s announcement makes it official. We may now see more speculation about who will be Minister after election day, but we anticipate day-to-day work, already winding down as the campaign approaches, will not be immediately impacted. It will be some time before we know who the next Minister will be and who will be supporting her or him.
What does this mean for the PC Party and Premier Doug Ford?
Many in the media and on the Opposition benches will be quick to jump on this news with sinking ship metaphors, but that does not appear to be the reality in this case. Overall, Minister Elliott is seen as having performed strongly through the pandemic. There is no reason to believe she wouldn’t be re-elected, or couldn’t hold her Ministry, if she wished. And the Ford government remains strongly positioned for re-election.
Rather, as a long-standing public figure who recently suffered through a serious health scare, this genuinely appears to be the retirement of a public servant who has done important work over the course of her career and is now ready for something new. After two long years overseeing Canada’s largest health system through a global pandemic, a desire to step back from politics and the Ministry is understandable.
For Premier Ford, however, this is a big loss. Minister Elliott was a star in a Cabinet that has lacked them (and lost them), and she stood out for her focus on evidence-based decision making and relative lack of partisanship. It will be a difficult task for the Premier to fill her shoes should he secure a new governing mandate. There is no obvious candidate with Elliott’s deep experience in both health care and politics.
H+K will continue to monitor for developments on this story as it unfolds. We also thank Minister Elliott for her many years of service to our province and wish her the best in her next chapter, wherever that may be.
Authored by: Will Stewart, Patrick Rooney, Alexandra Valcour and Matt Boudreau