Premier Kathleen Wynne is putting the accent firmly on the economy in her new cabinet, as she sets about trying to rev up job creation in the nation’s largest province while wrestling down the deficit and vastly expanding public transit.
A crowd of hundreds – including three former premiers – packed the legislature on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon to watch the swearing in of Ms. Wynne and her 26 ministers in front of Lieutenant-Governor David Onley.
“To everyone across this beautiful province: I promise you I will not let you down. I will continue to work to earn your trust,” Ms. Wynne said, touting the “clear mandate” she won in the election two weeks ago. “I’m confident that the next 10 years will be Ontario’s decade.”
The government’s toughest task falls to Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, who takes over the expanded Treasury Board presidency. Her central task is to balance the budget in three years by examining every department’s spending and finding cuts, getting public-sector unions to accept pay freezes and managing the Crown corporations – including the LCBO and the provincial gambling agency – that return money to the treasury.
“It isn’t going to be all lollipops and rainbows – we’ve got some hard work ahead,” she said after the ceremony. “But we’re up to it.”
Ms. Matthews said the government had told the unions before the election that they would not be getting wage increases and she expected they had tempered their expectations. Asked if she was prepared to stare them down, she said: “Yeah, I am. Because I know what our end goal is.”
Finance Minister Charles Sousa will retain responsibility for big-picture budgeting and economic policy. He will receive some help from a new associate minister, Mitzie Hunter, in rolling out the government’s signature provincial pension plan.
Brad Duguid, meanwhile, has been put in charge of a new super-ministry that combines economic development with infrastructure, effectively making him Ms. Wynne’s point man on the job-creation file.
“It dovetails very well together,” said Mr. Duguid, who leaves the Training, Colleges and Universities portfolio. “We want to make sure that we are getting maximum economic activity out of building infrastructure.”
A consummate retail politician with a high-voltage smile, Mr. Duguid will effectively become the government’s chief salesman, trying to get companies to invest in Ontario.
The most significant infrastructure to be built will be transit and highways, which will be overseen by new Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca. A relative newcomer to the legislature, Mr. Del Duca has established himself as an effective attack dog for the Liberals. Now, he will have to bring that same toughness to standing up to bickering city councils that have repeatedly delayed transit projects by changing their minds.
“The bottom line is in order to ensure we implement this plan and we get it right, I’m ready to talk to anyone,” he said. “The people of Ontario were very clear: They want shovels in the ground.”
The only major demotion in cabinet was to former transportation and infrastructure minister Glen Murray, whose big public persona sometimes led to fights with other levels of government. He was moved to the low-profile environment ministry. Mr. Murray contended the move was “not a demotion,” and he would use the new position to create a strategy for dealing with global warming.
Other significant moves saw Eric Hoskins, a medical doctor, replace Ms. Matthews in the health portfolio. Reza Moridi, a former nuclear scientist, will take over TCU from Mr. Duguid on top of his current job in Research and Innovation.
Those keeping their current jobs include Education Minister Liz Sandals, Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli, Attorney-General Madeleine Meilleur and Community Safety Minister Yasir Naqvi. Mr. Naqvi will take on the role of Government House Leader, while Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal will stay in place, but will gain the agriculture portfolio from Ms. Wynne.