January 17, 2018
TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne announced today a long-anticipated shuffle impacting several senior portfolios in her cabinet. The shake-up, coming less than five months before the Ontario election (June 7), factors in the looming retirements of some veteran ministers and the need to highlight up-and-comers before the parties go to the polls. It’s good timing, as the legislature isn’t in session, and Ministers – especially the three rookies being added to Cabinet – will have some time to learn their new portfolios and meet with key stakeholders.
With the promotion of Daiene Vernile (Kitchener-Centre), Harinder Malhi (Brampton-Springdale), and Nathalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier), Wynne’s new cabinet inches closer towards gender parity (which now stands at 13 women including the Premier herself, and 16 men) and is modestly more diverse. Importantly, the elevation of these new ministers strategically aims to strengthen the Ontario Liberals in some battleground ridings and regions, while maintaining the existing balance between GTA and non-GTA members around the cabinet table.
The shuffle also reflects the ongoing changing of the guard around the provincial cabinet table. The new faces have big shoes to fill with the departure of three party stalwarts – Deputy Premier and Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews (London North Centre), Treasury Board President Liz Sandals (Guelph) and Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid (Scarborough Centre). Today’s changes, in keeping with other recent cabinet selections, are intended to further inject new energy to promote and defend the ambitious legislative and policy program that has underpinned the Ontario Liberal government’s rise in the polls over the past 12 months. The majority of those making moves were elected as part of Premier Wynne’s slate in 2014, and thus have more personal investment with the current Premier and her legislative record. This is the team that the Premier wants to take into battle with her during the upcoming election, which is once again shaping up to be very competitive.
Counsel has the breakdown of today’s cabinet shuffle – who’s going where, and why.
Daiene Vernile – Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Kitchener-Waterloo is growing, and so is its electoral map – the region will be adding three new ridings this year, and Vernile is the Liberals’ sole ambassador in that area. Vernile is well-known as a former CTV reporter in KW, and giving her added profile leading into the election is a bankable choice.
Nathalie Des Rosiers – Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry
Des Rosiers is one of the newer members of the Liberal caucus, having beat out former Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin in a 2016 by-election. But she has serious credibility as the former dean of Ottawa University law school, professor, lawyer, feminist and advocate for civil rights, and the Liberals will want to put that to good use. With Ottawa-area MPPs now serving in Cabinet, it also indicates the continuing importance of the nation’s capital to the government’s electoral fortunes.
Harinder Malhi – Minister of the Status of Women
The Liberals need the GTA more than ever in this election if they’re going to hold on to power, and they haven’t had a Brampton cabinet member since the retirement of Linda Jeffrey, who was subsequently elected as the Mayor of Brampton. Promoting Malhi, a former school board trustee and the daughter of a long-serving Liberal MP, sends a signal that they’re serious about competing in Peel Region’s fastest-growing municipality, whose middle-class, multicultural homeowners are a prime target for Patrick Brown’s vision of a new PC Party.
Indira Naidoo-Harris – Minister of Education (retains responsibility for Early Years and Child Care)
Previous Role: Minister of Status of Women and Minister Responsible for Early Years and Child Care
This is a natural transition for Naidoo-Harris, a rising star in the Ontario Liberal ranks. She aced her file in promoting Ontario’s expanded child care spaces, and is a seasoned communicator from her years as a CBC anchor. With the electoral district boundaries changing in Halton, Naidoo-Harris will be defending the province’s fastest growing community (suburban Milton, the heart of her existing constituency), ground zero for the young, multicultural families that will continue to benefit from the government’s commitment to education investment and curriculum reform. In addition to being a representative face of her growing community, her excellent communication skills will be pivotal in helping to sell the government’s commitment to one of the Liberal’s most critical brand attributes.
Steven Del Duca – Minister of Economic Development and Growth
Previous Role: Minister of Transportation
The economy is always a top issue, and that continues to be true this year. With the government conscious of potential landmines, both domestic (minimum wage increase impacts) and international (ongoing threats to NAFTA), a seasoned cabinet minister was needed in the role going into this election. Del Duca has consistently demonstrated his steadiness and coolness under fire in challenging spats with the City of Toronto over transit funding, and will bring that demeanor to MEDG. Maintaining a complicated web of stakeholder relationships is an important responsibility of this Minister, and Del Duca is one of the government’s best at this.
Eleanor McMahon – President of the Treasury Board
Previous Role: Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Since her election in 2014, McMahon has only enhanced her reputation as one of the hardest-working, engaged and effective members at Queen’s Park and around the cabinet table. She also burnished her reputation as an excellent communicator as Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport. It will be an adjustment for a Minister well-known for securing wins on issues she champions to instead be the voice of “sober second thought” for her colleagues. Treasury Board is an important role but little-known outside of government, and puts McMahon in a role where her natural political communication skills will be less front-and-centre. Nevertheless, the promotion reflects the Premier’s confidence in McMahon’s abilities, so expect to see the Premier talking up McMahon’s role to boost her chances of retaining traditional Conservative Burlington.
Kathryn McGarry – Minister of Transportation
Previous Role: Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF)
McGarry was well received by the wide range of stakeholders at MNRF, and earned a promotion. McGarry was also Parliamentary Assistant to Transportation before her stint at MNRF, which means she’s familiar with the file, and there may be a sense that a non-GTA politician has a better chance of dealing with the clamour of transit and transportation demands from 416 and 905 politicians.
Mitzie Hunter – Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development
Previous Role: Minister of Education
Hunter maintained labour peace at Education, but faced increasingly strained relationships with powerful education stakeholders. With the focus of the cabinet shifting from governance to communications ahead of the election, Hunter makes a natural transition to another education related portfolio.