With Kathleen Wynne set to be sworn in Monday as Ontario’s new premier, The Globe’s Adam Radwanski looks at some of the contenders for her first cabinet.
WHO MINDS THE BOOKS?
From the moment he played queenmaker for Kathleen Wynne, Charles Sousa has been the odds-on favourite to replace the retiring Dwight Duncan as Finance Minister. The former banker certainly looks the part, and as a relative fiscal conservative might counterbalance Ms. Wynne’s left-of-centre leanings.
Recently, there has been speculation in government circles about a more counterintuitive option. At times cast as the Liberals’ social conscience, Deb Matthews might seem an odd choice to fight an $11-billion deficit. But as Health Minister, she showed her toughness doing battle with doctors and pharmacies to lower costs, establishing herself as arguably the most effective member of Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet. If she actually wants Finance – not a sure thing, since she might prefer to stay at Health - the fact that she served as Ms. Wynne’s campaign co-chair might not hurt.
The cardinal rule of cabinet shuffles is that those who know don’t talk and those who talk don’t know, so there may yet be a surprise choice for treasurer. But for now, the two names floating around are an intriguing study in contrasts.
PUTTING OUT FIRES
Given only a few days to study briefing books before the Legislature returns, some cabinet members will have to hit the ground running. That includes an education minister tasked with making peace with teachers, and an energy minister who inherits the controversy around power-plant cancellations.
Of those two, the former will be less of a challenge. Despite talk of less centralized decision-making than under Mr. McGuinty, Ms. Wynne’s past as education minister means the teachers file will probably be run largely out of the Premier’s office. So someone relatively untested might be able to replace Laurel Broten, who is all but certain to be shuffled.
Energy is a different story. Even at the best of times, it’s a portfolio that chews ministers up and spits them out. So Ms. Wynne will likely be looking to an old hand – someone like John Milloy, an unflashy former federal staffer who has served in a range of provincial portfolios including Government House Leader, or septuagenarian former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli – to serve as a troubleshooter. Ms. Broten’s name has also come up, but after being thrown under the bus at Education that might just be cruel.
SAFE LANDINGS FOR LEADERSHIP HOPEFULS
If Mr. Sousa doesn’t get Finance, Ms. Wynne will have to find another high-profile new gig for him. And then there are the other three erstwhile leadership candidates in her caucus.
Eric Hoskins, who showed significant growth as a public performer on the campaign trail and then threw support to Ms. Wynne when he was knocked off the ballot, seems in line for a promotion from his past posting at Children and Youth Services. But there are mixed reports about his ability to get beyond talk and drive files forward.
Ms. Wynne also owes Glen Murray, who dropped out of the race early to support her. At the same time, he’s coming off a rocky stint as Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, and rubs many colleagues the wrong way. So the best he should probably hope for is a lateral move.
She also needs to find a decent spot for the one candidate who didn’t go to her, Harinder Takhar, if she doesn’t want to seem petty. While reputedly competent behind the scenes, his limited communication skills best fit postings like his previous one at Government Services, where he’s not in the spotlight.
HOW MUCH FRESH BLOOD?
Unlike Mr. McGuinty’s last cabinet, Ms. Wynne’s is guaranteed to feature a few rookies. With Mr. Duncan and at least a couple of other ministers voluntarily exiting, the door is open for the likes of Ottawa’s Yasir Naqvi and Sault Ste Marie’s David Orazietti.
She could decide to open that door much wider. Several MPPs who supported her leadership bid – including Guelph’s Liz Sandals, a former school board leader who could conceivably go into Education, and Toronto lawyer David Zimmer – have been waiting a long time for their chance. So has Dave Levac, one of the very few Liberal MPPs with rural constituents and currently the Speaker of the Legislature. Rookies such as Steven Del Duca, who took over Greg Sorbara's Vaughan riding and co-chaired the leadership convention, and 30-something Toronto MPP Michael Coteau are heralded by some insiders as their party’s next generation. Teresa Piruzza could be tasked with ensuring that Windsor – a city she previously served as its executive director of social services – still has a seat at the table after Mr. Duncan’s departure.
How many of these or other backbenchers get promoted will depend on Ms. Wynne’s willingness to chance bad blood among veterans who could respond by not running for re-election. Seeking a fresh start, she may decide that’s a risk worth taking.