Kathleen Wynne’s desire to put some distance between herself and Dalton McGuinty is beginning to take shape, in the form of an Ontario Premier’s office almost unrecognizable from the one she inherited.
Virtually every senior staffer who served under Mr. McGuinty is on his or her way out. In their place will be a new team expected to be headed by Tom Teahen as chief of staff and Andrew Bevan as principal secretary, neither of whom have experience at the centre of provincial power.
But more than just new faces – none of which have yet been made official, with Mr. Teahen and Mr. Bevan both declining to comment on Wednesday – it appears Ms. Wynne will be placing a very different structure around herself, aimed at making good on her promise of a more collegial manner of governing.
Breaking from the comparatively rigid corporate model favoured during Mr. McGuinty’s abortive third term, she will return the office to a more flexible one seen to better suit a rookie premier during uncertain times, and to fit the accessible persona she is seeking to project.
The approach, in which the two top staffers answer directly to the premier, is one Mr. McGuinty used himself before shifting away from it. It places the chief of staff predominantly in charge of personnel and administration, while the principal secretary takes the lead on policy development and communications. But it allows for a degree of overlap, and requires those and other officials to build fluid working relationships.
As they try to develop a sense of teamwork, the new officials might be united by the close relationships most of them already enjoy with Ms. Wynne. Mr. Teahen, most recently an executive at the Workplace Safety Insurance Board, ran her office when she was education minister. And Mr. Bevan, chief of staff to Stéphane Dion during his time as federal Liberal leader, ran Ms. Wynne’s campaign when she first got elected as an MPP. Tom Allison, likely to take on an operational role within the Premier’s office, ran her leadership campaign. Shelley Potter, also expected to take a senior job, was her most recent ministerial chief of staff.
Still, some of them have not previously worked with each other. And while there don’t appear to be any huge egos in the group, this type of structure always runs the risk of quarrelling and confusion.
By most accounts, it worked fairly effectively during Mr. McGuinty’s first term, at the time when the more political chief of staff, Don Guy, and the more policy-focused principal secretary, Gerald Butts, effectively counterbalanced each other. But as the personalities changed, the lack of a firm structure led to turf battles – senior officials at various points competing with each other, advisers outside the government occasionally calling the shots, confusion among more junior staffers in the Premier’s and ministers’ offices about whom they reported to, and politics seemingly trumping policy with increasing frequency.
When he took over as chief of staff in Mr. McGuinty’s final term, David Livingston responded to a perceived lack of accountability by drawing on his Bay Street experience. Four deputy chiefs were appointed with clear sets of responsibilities, all of them reporting to Mr. Livingston. While some insiders credited it with establishing clearer lines of responsibility, others believed the place became too rigid and a bit tone-deaf.
In any event, it wasn’t enough to allow Mr. McGuinty to navigate his way out of a very tough year. And his successor appears to have decided she needs to get back to something much more nimble.
As for the personalities, Ms. Wynne will be hoping they can get along not just with each other, but also improve relations between her office and the rest of government. Mr. Teahen and Mr. Bevan, both of whom have reputations for being easy to get along with, likely will be watched closely by cabinet members and senior bureaucrats who have complained in recent years of too much command-and-control from the centre.