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Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks in front of new cabinet ministers Eric Hoskins, Sophie Aggelonitis, Linda Jeffrey and Carol Mitchell after their swearing in ceremony at Queen's Park on Monday January 18, 2010. (FRANK GUNN)
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty speaks in front of new cabinet ministers Eric Hoskins, Sophie Aggelonitis, Linda Jeffrey and Carol Mitchell after their swearing in ceremony at Queen's Park on Monday January 18, 2010. (FRANK GUNN)

Andrew Steele

The art of cabinet making Add to ...

Shuffles get too much attention, goes the old saw. Real people don't care about them, therefore they don't matter.

Actually, I think they matter a lot.

The greatest test of any first minister is their ability to place the right person in the right job at the right time.

It's not without reason that John A. Macdonald once signed the guest book at a conference describing his profession as "cabinet maker."

Ministers have real power. Statutory power to make real changes in people lives. The kind of people we have in each office matters.

A cautious career politician is unlikely to take big risks, and will resist efforts to do anything dramatic. When a file needs to be managed down, they are the right person for the job.

An ideologue will see everything through their prism, making some bad decisions because of their worldview (and making others that are brilliant and gutsy). In the right role, they can be dynamite, either blowing away a challenge or the government.

Someone moving through public office after a long career elsewhere, or who is more open to big change by virtue of personality, is more likely to touch that third rail and damn the consequences.

Temperament, ideology and experiences strongly impact the decisions a politician will make, and colour the output of their department in more ways than any platform or Premier ever will.

The shuffle today at Queen's Park brings a number of aggressive, moderate and change-oriented ministers to the front-bench.

Brad Duguid's promotion is the biggest news of the day, moving from Aboriginal Affairs to the senior ministry of Energy and Infrastructure.

Duguid is a great choice to move the Green Energy Act forward. His environmental bona fides go back to Toronto City Council, where he championed the creation of the City's Green Bin program for organic waste. He's also delivered on GTA green issues like the Rouge Park and local clean ups since his election to Queen's Park in 2003.

A good Scarborough boy, Duguid has just the right ratio of sizzle to steak to make a great minister. He does his homework and works the backrooms, but can deliver a punchy line at a photo op or mix it up in the House.

What is more, Duguid is a great guy with an even-keeled disposition and a ready joke.

Those expecting the McGuinty government will slow down or even back off its green agenda in energy will likely find the pace actually accelerates.

Leona Dombrowsky takes over as Education Minister after a long run at Agriculture and before that Environment.

Dombrowsky was chair of the Prince Edward-Hastings Separate School Board and comes with a family background in school busing.

She has proven herself a catalyst for change, championing the Clean Water Act, Waste Diversion Act and tough penalties for polluters in Environment. She was well-liked in Agriculture, where she drove investment into innovation and technology in this highly competitive industry.

Something to expect is an increased eye on the impact of Education in rural communities. Policies like Full Day Kindergarten or school closures will have unique impacts on students and parents in smaller towns and farm communities. Dombrowsky's experience will put this concern front and centre.

The other big move of the shuffle is Kathleen Wynne moving to Transportation.

To me, this is Adam Giambrone's worst nightmare. The next time there is a power struggle between the province and Toronto over the TTC, the city will have a very hard time demonizing a gay mid-Toronto progressive woman with solid union support like Wynne as someone who will kill Transit City.

With all the money the province is pouring into the City of Toronto for transit projects, including the subway extension to York, the Scarborough RT, Sheppard East LRT, Eglinton RT and Finch RT, the province will be elbows up to make sure the projects get done on time and on budget.

It will also be interesting to see how Wynne handles the next inevitable strike by TTC workers. In Education, she was the model of the "moderate unions thrive, radical unions don't" approach to negotiations.

Under Wynne, every teachers union settled in 2008 with a strong package that reflected pre-recession economy. One union held out for more money. Stared down by Wynne, ETFO settled for much less than the other teachers' federations and the union president was defeated in his reelection bid earlier this year.

While the Transport Minister doesn't directly bargain with the TTC union, the province inevitably gets embroiled in the unstable world of TTC labour relations and Wynne will be well positioned to take a hard line.

The people who fill the role matter.

And with these three people in these three roles, we should expect some big changes to happen in each portfolio.

(Dalton McGuinty introduces new cabinet ministers Eric Hoskins, Sophie Aggelonitis, Linda Jeffrey and Carol Mitchell today at Queen's Park. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

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