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Rod Phillips, then Ontario's Finance Minister, answers reporters' questions at Queen's Park in Toronto in March, 2020.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has unveiled a major cabinet shuffle that removes several ministers and returns Rod Phillips to the front bench, in a reset that aims to inject more diversity into the Progressive Conservative government less than a year before the next provincial election.

In the first significant revamp of his cabinet in two years, Mr. Ford removed five ministers from their roles while promoting younger members, women and people of colour, as the province looks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

But in the key posts of education, finance, health and solicitor-general, the ministers remain unchanged.

“As we continue our work to rebuild and support Ontario’s health system, our renewed team is well positioned to deliver on the priorities that matter to Ontarians, including getting more people back to work, making life more affordable, supporting businesses and job creators and building transit infrastructure,” Mr. Ford said in a statement.

The Premier is bringing back into the fold Mr. Phillips, the former finance minister, who resigned from cabinet on Jan. 1 after it was revealed he had travelled to the luxury island of St. Barts during the December holidays, when Canadians were being advised against unnecessary travel.

Mr. Phillips returns to cabinet as the new long-term care minister, replacing Merrilee Fullerton, who becomes the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services – the province’s third-largest ministry, with responsibility for the contentious autism file.

Mr. Phillips, who represents the Toronto-area riding of Ajax, will take on the heavy task of rebuilding the long-term care sector after the pandemic. Mr. Ford and Ms. Fullerton faced a barrage of criticism for the government’s handling of the health crisis in long-term care homes. In total, 3,781 long-term care residents and 13 staff members have died during the pandemic, according to Ontario government figures.

Despite Ford’s pledge, new Ontario LTC homes not required to install air conditioning in residents’ rooms

Amanda Galbraith, a Conservative strategist and principal at Navigator, a public-affairs firm, said Mr. Phillips is widely viewed as a competent and intelligent politician who can take on the challenges of the long-term care file.

“He was a very sure performer in the last cabinet, regardless of what happened, and [long-term care] is a major issue, so having him there as a steady hand to manage it makes a lot of sense,” she said.

The Ontario NDP, however, called Mr. Phillips’s return to cabinet “shocking and deeply insulting” to the families of long-term care residents.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott and Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, who are leading voices in the government’s pandemic response, will remain in their roles. Peter Bethlenfalvy, who took on the dual roles of Treasury Board President and Finance Minister when Mr. Phillips resigned his post, will remain Finance Minister. Prabmeet Sarkaria, a Brampton MPP and former associate minister of small business, is being promoted into the role of Treasury Board President.

Liberal MPP Stephen Blais said that by leaving Mr. Lecce and Ms. Elliott in place, Mr. Ford is rewarding “two people that share responsibility with him for one of the most incompetent responses to COVID-19 in the Western world.”

Also staying on in their roles are Labour Minister Monte McNaughton; Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod; Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark; Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli; Attorney-General Doug Downey; PC House Leader Paul Calandra; and Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

As part of the changes, Mr. Ford removed five longer-serving MPPs from cabinet: Jeff Yurek, who was environment minister; John Yakabuski, who was natural resources minister; Ernie Hardeman, who was agriculture minister; Laurie Scott, who was infrastructure minister; and Bill Walker, who was associate minister of energy.

The government created a new portfolio for Parm Gill, a former federal MP who represents the Toronto-area riding of Milton. He will be the Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

David Piccini is moving into cabinet to become the new Environment Minister, and Kinga Surma, currently associate minister of transportation, is being promoted to Infrastructure Minister. Lisa Thompson becomes the Agriculture Minister, and Todd Smith becomes Minister of Energy. Greg Rickford takes on a new ministry that combines Northern Development, Mining, Natural Resources and Forestry and Indigenous Affairs.

Other members of Mr. Ford’s caucus are being promoted to junior cabinet roles: Nina Tangri, the MPP for Mississauga-Streetsville, becomes Associate Minister of Small Business. Stan Cho, who represents the Toronto riding of Willowdale, becomes Associate Minister of Transportation. Jane McKenna becomes Associate Children’s Minister, and Kaleed Rasheed becomes Associate Minister of Digital Government.

Maailah Blackwood, a consultant with Crestview Strategy who previously worked for the minister of children, community and social services, said it’s evident that Mr. Ford is trying to promote different voices, particularly from the key battleground of Peel Region, before the June, 2022, election.


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