The Ford Government announced a major cabinet reshuffle this morning and it is obviously an attempt to reboot and rebrand a government that has run into difficulty in terms of its popularity – and particularly the popularity of the “Populist” Premier who obviously did not take kindly to be booed at this week’s Raptor’s Celebration. All politicians I believe have an deep rooted need to be liked but if it becomes a dominant characteristic it can lead to bad policy.
Obviously, the Premier has decided that the source of his current unpopularity is a function of the actions of three ministers in particular: 1) former Finance Minister Vic Fedeli who has now been put in the Economic Development Portfolio and replaced by former Environment Minister Rod Phillips, 2) former Child and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod who is being replaced by the former Economic Development minister Todd Smith and 3) former education Minister Lisa Thompson who is being replaced by a cabinet newcomer – Stephen Lecce – on the eve of what will be contentious negotiations this summer as teacher’s contracts expire. There are a number of other changes – such as Caroline Mulroney moving out of the Attorney General position to Transport – and you can get the new list here. For those of you in the Northwest, Greg Rickford fortunately remains in charge of his portfolios.
There seem to be several themes here. First, moving ministers out of portfolios where there has been controversy and putting in new faces. It remains to be seen if the idea is to sell the same ideas with new faces or have an abrupt policy shift. Second, an increase in the number of GTA area ministers which given the population and clout of the region is probably a wise strategy and was an important omission the first time the cabinet was constructed. Third, an increase in the size of cabinet - from 21 to 28 – which will no doubt raise eyebrows in the Toronto area given the early move to reduce Toronto City council from 47 to 25.
In some respects, this cabinet shuffle probably is going to signal an end to attempts to enact major reforms and changes designed to put Ontario’s Finances on a more sustainable path. There is no doubt that some of the issues that affected people in health, education and social service sector were handled in a particularly ham-handed way but a move towards re-opening the taps wider in order to make a populist Premier more popular is not a good thing in the long run. However, the expansion of cabinet is an important symbol that says there is not going to be as firm an emphasis on reining in the deficit and debt. Indeed, it is very disappointing to see Vic Fedeli out of Finance given his energy level and steady hand when it came to the operations of government.
It will be an interesting summer.