His caucus reduced to 53 members from 72, Dalton McGuinty will reveal a leaner cabinet on Thursday. Other than Dwight Duncan remaining at finance, the Ontario Premier is trying to avoid showing his cards. But that's not stopping the speculation, on multiple fronts.
THE SEARCH FOR RURAL REPRESENTATION
The Liberals were nearly wiped out of rural Ontario in the election. That leaves a major cabinet-making headache for Mr. McGuinty: finding a way for that part of the province to be represented.
Liz Sandals, who has toiled on the backbenches for eight years, seems to be a shoo-in. Although her riding of Guelph is not exactly rural, it's a major hub for the farming industry, making her a potential replacement for defeated agriculture minister Carol Mitchell.
Otherwise, the talent pool is pretty thin. Brant's Dave Levac didn't help his chances by suggesting mid-campaign that the Liberals were considering a carbon tax. But Jeff Leal, the veteran MPP who held onto the battleground riding of Peterborough, is rumoured to be on his way in.
The Liberals need to develop some younger front-line talent. Yasir Naqvi – the 38-year-old party president and MPP for Ottawa Centre – is overdue for promotion. The same might be said for Sault Ste Marie's David Orazietti, but his elevation seems less certain.
Newly elected Toronto MPPs Soo Wong and Michael Coteau are getting buzz. But to put them in would probably require dumping someone – the likeliest candidate being Margarett Best, minister of health promotion.
And although she doesn't have a high profile, Windsor's Teresa Piruzza is said to have impressed Mr. Duncan, who holds the neighbouring riding.
WHO'S AT HEALTH?
Deb Matthews is well-liked in Liberal circles, and fared well in last year's fight with pharmacies over drug prices. But despite being seen as one of the government's most competent ministers, she's since proven more risk-averse than some members of the Premier's office.
There are rumours that Kathleen Wynne, most recently Transportation Minister, will replace her. If so, the likeliest destination for Ms. Matthews would be education, vacated by the defeat of Leona Dombrowsky.
If there's a change at health, it's a sign that Mr. McGuinty wants to move more aggressively on curbing increases in health spending.
WHO'S AT ENERGY?
This might be cabinet's toughest posting, especially given the massive clean-up job that awaits on everything from green energy to relocating gas-fired power plants.
The best argument for keeping Brad Duguid is that someone else would need a year to learn the files. The best argument for replacing him, his critics in the energy sector say, is that he's still struggling to grasp those files himself.
No one with an eye on the Liberal leadership will be eager to take on what could be a career-killer. If Mr. Duguid is moved, that could leave it to erstwhile infrastructure minister Bob Chiarelli, a 70-year-old former Ottawa mayor in whom Mr. McGuinty has quite a bit of trust.
HOW IMPORTANT IS LABOUR?
The Liberals' efforts to freeze public-sector salaries have been a mixed success. Part of the problem is that it's largely been left to Mr. Duncan, who already has more than enough on his plate.
With wages still a big part of the government's deficit-fighting challenge, there's chatter about empowering the Labour Minister to serve as the point person. If so, a big name could be moved to what has until now been seen as a mid-level ministry. Or Charles Sousa, whose star is on the rise, could effectively get a promotion just by keeping the ministry he held before the election.