Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has shuffled her cabinet, bringing in two veteran backbenchers and promoting a pair of current ministers.
The moves, which appear partly designed to shore up Liberal support in key ridings ahead of a possible spring election, were prompted by Linda Jeffrey’s resignation to join the race for Brampton mayor and stalwart John Gerretsen’s decision to stand down at the next vote.
Madeleine Meilleur replaced Mr. Gerretsen as attorney-general, while Yasir Naqvi took over Ms. Meilleur’s former portfolio – community safety and correctional services. Mr. Naqvi’s previous post, labour minister, went to Kevin Flynn.
Bill Mauro, meanwhile, jumped off the backbench to Ms. Jeffrey’s job at municipal affairs. Mr. Gerretsen will remain in the executive as a minister without portfolio until the election, when he has said he will not seek another term. Bob Delaney was handed Mr. Flynn’s former role as chief government whip.
“Every part of the province is important, and so we need all of those voices at the table,” Ms. Wynne said outside her office, flanked by the newly minted ministers. “The cabinet choices today and our cabinet reflects that reality.”
Mr. Mauro has represented Thunder Bay-Atikokan, one of the Liberals’ last redoubts in the North, since 2003. He has faced tough challenges from the New Democrats in the last two elections.
Mr. Flynn, meanwhile, holds Oakville, in the suburban battleground around Toronto that typically decides elections. He takes over labour in time to steer the government’s minimum wage legislation – which would ensure the province maintains one of the highest rates in the country – a file certain to boost his profile.
Mr. Naqvi, for his part, is seen as the government’s rising young star.
Asked if the appointment of Mr. Flynn – who successfully pushed for the cancellation of a gas-fired power plant in his riding, which ultimately cost the treasury hundreds of millions of dollars – would make it easier for the opposition to attack the government over the scandal, Ms. Wynne brushed the notion aside.
“We got a lot of opportunities to talk about the relocation of the gas plants,” she said.
“I really believe that what Kevin brings to the table, what Bill brings to the table, is what we need right now.”
The shuffle came hours after Ms. Jeffrey made her resignation official in a closed caucus meeting. In a subsequent news conference, she set the stage for her attempt to oust incumbent Susan Fennell as mayor of the fast-growing Toronto suburb. She took direct aim at the expense scandal surrounding Ms. Fennell, who has come under fire for charging taxpayers for first-class flights and a car and driver.
“It’s time for a change,” Ms. Jeffrey said. “Certainly, there have been revelations about spending and the city is in the midst of lawsuits and forensic audits. These are troubling allegations.”
Ms. Fennell has defended her spending, saying the flights are necessary to attract business to the city, and the car and driver help her get work done while shuttling between events.
Ms. Jeffrey said she has been under pressure for the past year, including from Brampton resident and former premier Bill Davis, to throw her hat in the ring.
The opposition parties charged the government’s shakeup is solely designed to help Mr. Mauro and Mr. Flynn get re-elected. They also questioned the decision to keep Mr. Gerretsen at the table without portfolio.
“It’s a cabinet designed for the next month and a half to save some people some jobs, and at least keep Minister Gerretsen on the cabinet payroll,” PC MPP Lisa MacLeod said.
Added NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh: “These are decisions based on maintaining certain seats.”