Premier Wynne announced a series of changes to her cabinet today following the resignation of Minister of Environment and Climate Change Glen Murray. The former Minister is set to become the Executive Director of the Pembina Institute, a 33-year-old environmental think-tank based in Alberta. Murray will take on his new responsibilities on September 5, and his resignation from the Ontario legislature effective September 1, 2017.
Given that the Election Act does not require a by-election for vacancies within one year of a general election, currently scheduled for June 7, 2018, the Premier has opted against a by-election for Murray’s riding of Toronto Centre. The role of Minister of the Environment and Climate Change will be filled by Newmarket—Aurora MPP Chris Ballard. Ballard’s previous position as Minister of Housing and the Minister responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy will be filled by the promotion of Toronto MPP Peter Milczyn to these responsibilities. Finally, in a move unrelated to Murray’s resignation, the Premier announced that the Office of Francophone Affairs will become a standalone ministry led by Minister Marie-France Lalonde, who also remains the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services as well as the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. Overall, the announced moves elevate strong caucus performers, while attempting to boost the government’s political fortunes in geographic and policy areas where there is some uncertainty heading into the 2018 election.
The new Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Chris Ballard, will be tasked with continuing the government’s work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oversee the province’s transition to a low-carbon economy. The appointment is politically significant for the Wynne Liberals, and Ballard himself. Trailing in a majority of public opinion polls, Wynne’s liberals are vulnerable, particularly in the 905 region. Ballard’s previous career as a local municipal politician and as a journalist provides the government with a capable and effective spokesperson for a Ministry that will remain the focus of Premier Wynne’s government as it touts its environmental credentials heading into an election in 2018. Furthermore, Minister Ballard’s riding of Newmarket—Aurora, previously represented by Tory MPP Frank Klees, is a key target for Patrick Brown’s Conservatives. The appointment, and the new public facing responsibilities associated with it, serves to give Ballard a profile boost that could help him hold onto his seat in 2018.
Peter Milczyn, the first term MPP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, replaces Minister Ballard as the Minister of Housing and Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy. Minister Milczyn will be responsible for the execution of Ontario’s Fair Housing Plan, and will work on implementing Ontario’s Basic Income Pilot. Within these politically sensitive portfolios, it is anticipated that Minister Milczyn, who is a detail-oriented legislator that previously served as a long-time Etobicoke /Toronto City Councillor, will continue his approach of seeking a balance between community needs, development needs, and forward looking growth management.
The appointment of Minister Milczyn is also seen as a key indicator on the importance that OMB reform will have during the remainder of the term, in particular the evolution of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal. During Minister Milczyn’s tenure as the Chair of Toronto’s Planning and Growth Management Committee, the then Councillor had
been a steadfast advocate for reforming the development of the new Toronto Local Appeal Body, which has recently started to hear appeals for Toronto’s Committee of Adjustment hearings in lieu of the OMB.
Finally, the move to enhance the Office of Francophone Affairs for Ontario into a standalone ministry can be interpreted as an attempt to build upon the success and strength of relationship this government has had with Ontario’s francophone community. This became clear during the Ottawa—Vanier by-election, where the ridings Franco-population overwhelming supported Liberal candidate Nathalie Des Rosiers, propelling her to victory over the PC’s star candidate, former Ontario Ombudsman André Marin. Minister Lalonde has carved out a niche as being the party’s champion of francophone issues. Her personal connection to the community, and her ability to provide direct, strategic, and thoughtful advice on francophone affairs, makes her the ideal ambassador for a demographic that the governing party must continue to win over in 2018 should it hope to see electoral success.