Originally, the rumour was that it would happen before Christmas. Then it was that it would be before their party gathers for its annual general meeting in late January – a theory that was complicated this week by the convention being postponed until March.
While the possible timeframe keeps shifting, Ontario Liberals continue to speculate about the prospects of pre-election cabinet shuffle. And there are at least a couple of good reasons why the rumour won't go away – and why, even though Premier Kathleen Wynne's officials deny it will happen, it seems to at least remain a live discussion.
The more obvious of those incentives, and the one that would probably be cited if a shuffle happened, is a perceived need to get younger MPPs into more prominent roles. While Ms. Wynne is only just wrapping up her first year in office, and 10 of her ministers are rookies, there is rather a lot of grey hair on her front bench – not a huge help to the Liberals in trying to project themselves as fresh and energetic.
Attorney-General John Gerretsen has already indicated he won't seek re-election in the campaign widely expected for next spring, which means he could easily be shuffled out, and there may be one or two others who fit the same bill but haven't made it public yet. That could allow a bit of fresh blood to be elevated from the backbenches, and promotions for younger ministers currently serving in cabinet. (Yasir Naqvi, the 40-year-old lawyer currently serving as Labour Minister, would be the obvious choice to replace Mr. Gerretsen.)
No less a consideration, albeit one that Liberals would be much less likely to ever acknowledge publicly, is concern around the handling of some key files – and one in particular.
By her account, Ms. Wynne is prepared to stake her electoral fortunes partly on a push for new taxes or tolls to fund public transit. That won't be an easy pitch no matter who's making it, but it could be especially perilous with the minister currently responsible for it.
Generously, Glen Murray's tenure as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure could be described as tumultuous. Within government, he's said to have quarrelled with cabinet and caucus colleagues, with bureaucrats and with the Premier's office. But the bigger concern for the Liberals at this point is how he interacts with the outside world, which has included frequently veering off message and picking fights with other levels of government, The former Winnipeg mayor's defenders say that when he's on, he's one of the Liberals' strongest communicators; he's also, in fairness, one of the only current ministers who looks comfortable delivering attack lines against opponents. But other Liberals argue that he somehow lost a public-relations battle over a Scarborough transit line for which the province has committed $1.4-billion, and wonder what that says about his ability to make tougher sells.
Even if Ms. Wynne shares the latter concern, it wouldn't be easy to move Mr. Murray. His current job was largely a reward for being the first of her leadership competitors to throw his support to her. So much as it might be reasonable to split up Transportation and Infrastructure (which are a lot for any minister) and leave him with the latter, or switch him to a posting such as Municipal Affairs or Environment that would befit his past experience, a perceived demotion could create all sorts of unpleasantness.
That alone could be enough to dissuade Ms. Wynne from tinkering this winter. And an additional disincentive, as is always the case when cabinet changes are under consideration, is that promoting any one MPP is liable to cause friction among several others miffed at being passed over.
If it doesn't happen before the Legislature returns on Feb. 18, we'll have a pretty good indication that Ms. Wynne is prepared to go into an election with the cabinet she has. But there's enough motivation to consider a shuffle that, whatever the Premier's plans, the speculation can be expected to ramp up in the weeks ahead.
Adam Radwanski is The Globe's Ontario politics columnist.