By Allison Jones in Toronto
Ontario Premier Doug Ford will soon handpick a new cabinet to help steer his agenda at the outset of his second term – with an announcement coming in the next two weeks, a senior government source said.
Formal discussions about cabinet picks have not yet taken place, said the source, who was not authorized to speak about the topic publicly. The initial focus following the Progressive Conservatives’ election victory on June 2 has been policy, and establishing the marching orders the eventual ministers will get, they said.
“Once those mandates are clear, then the process begins with putting faces to the files,” the source said.
The policy work is now largely complete, and the premier just has to sign off before selecting the cabinet, a process could happen fairly quickly, the source said.
“Before the end of this month a cabinet will be in place,” they said.
With a whopping 83 Tories elected, Ford has a vast number of people to choose from. His last cabinet had 28 people serving in 26 full-fledged ministry positions and five associate minister positions, with a few overseeing two portfolios.
Karl Baldauf, who was chief of staff to the president of the Treasury Board in Ford’s first term, said a larger team could mean a larger cabinet.
“When you have a caucus of that size, there’s going to be pressure to ensure that everyone feels as though they have a role to play, not just in representing their constituencies, but also in contributing to the success of the government,” said Baldauf, now a vice-president of McMillan Vantage Policy Group
“Ideally, every member of that team would have a ministership or be a parliamentary assistant, and if not that, then be designated to oversee something in the way of a committee.”
Ford could expand cabinet by introducing new portfolios or resurrecting previous ones, Baldauf said, citing the Ministry of Research and Innovation that existed under the former Liberal government.
The premier could also hive off portions of ministries, such as how Ford created a separate long-term care portfolio out of the former Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Baldauf said, singling out priorities such as hospital infrastructure, skilled trades and cross-border trade.
Laryssa Waler, who was Ford’s executive director of communications, said the premier has been clear about his priorities, including building hospitals and Highway 413, and strengthening his relationship with labour.
“I think that he’ll build the cabinet to reflect that,” said Waler, now a principal at executive advisory firm gt&co.
“I think he’ll take into account regional opportunities to have more representation, maybe from the north, down in Hamilton, down through Windsor to southwestern Ontario. Regional representation is important in every cabinet.”
The Progressive Conservatives took two Windsor ridings away from the NDP, and former Canadian Football League player Neil Lumsden won the longtime NDP riding of Hamilton East-Stoney Creek for the Tories.
Baldauf said the premier will want his cabinet to be geographically diverse, but also to be more demographically diverse. His first cabinet had just one member of a visible minority,Baldauf noted, but later iterations were more representative.
“We will likely see a continuation of that, to ensure that in age, in other sociodemographic realities, the cabinet does reflect the face of Ontario today,” he said.
At a post-election news conference, Ford touted that the Progressive Conservatives saw not one, but three candidates from the Black community elected.
Likely top of mind for the premier is the biggest cabinet portfolio, as it’s also one that is wide open, with the resignation of Christine Elliott, who served as health minister through all four years of the previous government.
One name that has been raised in cabinet speculation stories is Sylvia Jones, who was previously Solicitor General.
Baldauf said the name may come as a surprise to some, but it’s likely because Jones didn’t have a huge public profile as Solicitor General because it’s a file Ford enjoys, so the premier would often step into the spotlight for announcements.
“But I can tell you, she’s established herself within government as somebody who is almost universally respected, somebody who the premier trusts and, who capably manages her files,” he said.
Baldauf and Waler were split on speculation about where Monte McNaughton might land. He was appointed minister of labour in 2019, introduced a spate of legislation aimed at being worker friendly, and his focus on the skilled trades sector paid off for the Tories with an array of trade union endorsements.
“Some of us were scratching our heads when Monte was moved from infrastructure to labour, because we saw him as so capable, and labour was seen as a file that for a Conservative government was not going to be a priority,” Baldauf said.
“Well, here we are a number of years later, and look what he’s done with the place.”
But Waler said she would be surprised if McNaughton is moved out of labour, since he has spent so much time developing relationships with labour leaders and the membership of unions across the province. She said she would also be surprised if Vic Fedeli is moved away from Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.
He had a bumpy one-year stint as finance minister, but while he was in Economic Development the province managed to woo billions in auto sector investment, including a new electric vehicle battery plant for Windsor.
“He is really the author and the father of the auto strategy,” Waler said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.