Interpreting his minority mandate as a sign that voters want to stick with tried and true, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is set to appoint a new cabinet that looks a lot like his old one.
The biggest change will be the appointment of Chris Bentley, the province’s erstwhile Attorney-General, to replace Brad Duguid as Energy Minister. Mr. Bentley, widely believed to have leadership aspirations, will face an enormous test in what is arguably cabinet’s toughest job.
Otherwise, Mr. McGuinty has eschewed calls from fellow Liberals to conduct an overhaul aimed at projecting renewal. The new cabinet, which will be formally unveiled on Thursday afternoon but was confirmed by government sources on Wednesday evening, will not include a single rookie. And every minister who kept his or her seat in the Oct. 6 election will remain at the table.
In addition to Dwight Duncan, whose reappointment at Finance had already been announced, several other ministers will keep the posts they held before the election. Most notably, that includes Deb Matthews staying at Health despite some differences with the Premier’s Office over the pace of reforms. As well, Harinder Takhar remains at Government Services, and Michael Chan stays at Tourism.
Other prominent posts are also filled by familiar faces, including Laurel Broten at Education – a position vacated when Leona Dombrowsky was defeated. Jim Bradley will go to Environment (which he has held previously, although not most recently), Michael Gravelle to Natural Resources and Forestry, and Rick Bartolucci to Northern Development and Mines. Mr. Duguid will serve as Economic Development and Innovation Minister.
With Mr. McGuinty shrinking his cabinet to 22 members from 28 – a reflection of his Liberals’ loss of 19 seats in the election – some ministers will be doing double duty. That includes Bob Chiarelli, who adds Transportation to his pre-existing responsibilities as Infrastructure Minister. Kathleen Wynne, who many believed was in line for a significant promotion, will have to settle for Municipal Affairs and Housing paired with the separate ministry of Aboriginal Affairs. And John Milloy will serve as both Community and Social Services Minister and the Government House Leader – a pivotal job in a minority legislature.
Meanwhile, some ministers who previously appeared to have fallen out of Mr. McGuinty’s favour will receive promotions. That includes Ted McMeekin, who after a stint on the backbenches will return to cabinet as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – a clear attempt to make up for the defeat of four rural ministers in the election. And John Gerretsen, demoted from Environment last year over his part in the “eco fees” controversy, will be the province’s Attorney-General.
Major promotions from junior to senior cabinet roles are few and far between, other than Ms. Broten’s move to Education and Glen Murray’s elevation from Research and Innovation to Training, Colleges and Universities.
The lack of turnover will come as a surprise to many within Mr. McGuinty’s party. It had been widely expected that at least a couple of more fresh faces – including highly touted Ottawa MPP and party president Yasir Naqvi, and long-serving Guelph MPP Liz Sandals – would be appointed.
Senior Liberals argued on Wednesday evening that, having campaigned on experience, Mr. McGuinty could only be expected by voters to stick with a roster of veterans. But others will question whether, with the province facing major budgetary challenges, a cabinet aimed at staying the course will have enough capacity for reform.
The Premier's calls to newly appointed ministers took longer than expected on Wednesday evening, raising speculation about some degree of discord.