Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has unveiled a massive 30-member cabinet as she gives her government a facelift at the halfway point of its four-year mandate.
The shakeup gives cabinet a higher proportion of women – 40 per cent – and reduces its average age.
Some veterans, including Liz Sandals and Bob Chiarelli, are moving to lower-profile roles. Up-and-comers, such as Mitzie Hunter and Yasir Naqvi, are receiving big promotions. Seven backbenchers are being invited inside the tent, with Glenn Thibeault taking a quantum leap from rookie MPP to the government's tough Energy portfolio.
Ms. Wynne's closest political ally, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, will take on a reconfigured postsecondary education portfolio that seeks to more closely link education to the economy in a hint at the theme of the Liberals' 2018 re-election platform.
The Premier has spent the past two years mapping out an ambitious agenda on several fronts – including a new pension plan, a cap-and-trade system for battling climate change, a transit-building scheme and the privatization of Hydro One – and said she would now turn her attention to making sure all of those policies roll out smoothly.
"This last two years has been about laying the groundwork, laying the foundation of our plan," Ms. Wynne said in the government caucus room at Queen's Park on Monday. "The next two years are about implementing those very big initiatives that we've taken on."
The new cabinet is so large, with more than half the Liberals' 56 MPPs, that ministers had trouble squeezing onto the riser behind Ms. Wynne as she spoke.
Ms. Matthews leaves the presidency of the Treasury Board to take over Advanced Education and Skills Development, a merger of the Training, Colleges and Universities Ministry with all of the government's various job-training programs. The idea is to put more emphasis on matching the education system with available jobs and economic development. Ms. Matthews will also be chair of cabinet and in charge of "digital government," tasked with digitizing more government services, an area in which Ontario is seriously behind.
Mr. Thibeault takes over the massive Energy file, a long-delayed reward for defecting from the NDP to help the Liberals reclaim the Sudbury riding in a by-election last year. The swift promotion is highly unusual; prior to Mr. Chiarelli's three-year tenure there, the complicated portfolio was widely seen as a career killer.
"Even though some people have wished me condolences, I'm actually very, very excited at the opportunity," Mr. Thibeault said. "I've been juggling some hot potatoes my whole political career. I'm happy to continue with that."
Ms. Sandals and Mr. Chiarelli move from the high-profile Education and Energy portfolios, respectively, to more behind-the-scenes roles at the Treasury Board and Infrastructure.
Ms. Sandals's communications style caused headaches for the government. Last fall, after The Globe and Mail revealed the province had paid millions of dollars to the province's teachers' unions to settle labour disputes, for instance, she dismissed the need for receipts to see how the unions had spent the money, saying they had probably just spent much of it on pizza. The Premier subsequently had to step in and demand the unions show documentation on what they had done with the money.
Mr. Chiarelli was credited with deftly managing a series of crises at the Ministry of Energy and negotiating important deals to refurbish the province's nuclear reactors. But he was known for intemperate comments, such as dismissing criticisms from the province's Auditor-General.
He will now be charged with managing hundreds of projects – from transit lines and highways to new schools and hospital renovations. He said his focus would be on speeding up the process and co-ordinating with the federal government, which has promised to spend more money on infrastructure.
"There needs to be quicker co-ordination between the federal, provincial government. There are very significant programs that are being rolled out," he said. "We want to see it implemented in an efficent way. But most importantly, as quickly as possible."
Ms. Hunter, previously the junior minister in charge of the province's new pension program, moves to Education. Mr. Naqvi has also been promoted from Community Safety to become Attorney-General; he remains Government House Leader. Both are youthful, as well as tightly scripted communicators.
International Trade becomes a stand-alone ministry, with Michael Chan in charge.
Among those joining cabinet for the first time will be backbenchers Indira Naidoo-Harris as associate minister of finance for the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan; Laura Albanese at Citizenship and Immigration; Chris Ballard at Housing; Marie-France Lalonde at Government and Consumer Services; Kathryn McGarry at Natural Resources and Forestry; and Eleanor McMahon at Culture.
Some heavyweights, such as Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, remain in their current posts. Brad Duguid remains in charge of Economic Development (which will have the word "growth" added to the title), but he loses Infrastructure to Mr. Chiarelli.
Environment Minister Glen Murray also keeps his job, despite a hard-driving persona that caused friction at cabinet and included taking swings at the province's auto sector and other businesses during a speech last month, in which he accused them of not doing enough to fight climate change.
He will be in charge of implementing his wide-ranging Climate Change Action Plan, which includes moving some buildings off natural gas and on to solar or geothermal heat, ramping up the number of electric cars sold in the province and retrofitting tens of thousands of buildings.
Mr. Murray also vowed to play nicer in future. "I have enough humility in my life to be very aware of mistakes I've made and learn from them," he said. "You'll probably see a kinder, gentler Glen."
The largest demotion is to Reza Moridi, the former minister for postsecondary education, who lost most of his ministry to Ms. Matthews, remaining in charge only of Research, Innovation and Science.
Tracy MacCharles loses Children and Youth Services to Michael Coteau but remains in cabinet as Minister Responsible for Women's Issues.
Other ministers moving jobs are Bill Mauro, who returns to Municipal Affairs after two years at Natural Resources; Dipika Damerla, who takes over Seniors Affairs after previously being associate health minister; and David Orazietti, who takes Mr. Naqvi's previous job, moving up from Consumer Services.
Four ministers have left cabinet – former attorney-general Madeleine Meilleur, former municipal affairs minister Ted McMeekin, former seniors affairs minister Mario Sergio and former minister without portfolio Jim Bradley.
All four resigned ahead of the shuffle. Ms. Meilleur also quit her seat in the legislature. Mr. Bradley will take over Ms. Lalonde's old job as chief whip. Mr. McMeekin and Mr. Sergio will continue as regular backbenchers.