Premier Doug Ford is considering a major revamp of his cabinet as the one-year countdown begins to the June 2, 2022 election, the Star has learned.
After the legislature rises Thursday for the summer, high-ranking Progressive Conservative sources say the premier will turn his eye toward a significant shuffle of ministers.
While some advisers have suggested nearly every minister should be moved to a new portfolio — and that Ford should dump some cabinet members to bring in fresh blood — no decisions have been made.
“There will be lots of changes this summer,” said one senior official, who, like others interviewed over several days, spoke confidentially to discuss internal deliberations.
Another top insider suggested some veteran Tory ministers might be in for a surprise.
“Those legacy MPPs (in cabinet) who are in safe seats, and have been anti-lockdown, were a big part of why the premier opened things too fast in February and closed things too slowly in April,” noted the second official.
“Some of them could be shuffled out because they gave (Ford) questionable advice that was out of step with what Ontarians wanted.”
The insider pointedly declined to name names.
But a third Tory said Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott, Associate Energy Minister Bill Walker, Natural Resources Minister John Yakabuski, and Environment Minister Jeff Yurek have all been outspoken over the impact of lockdowns on the economy and on mental health.
The third PC adviser stressed that doesn’t necessarily mean that any of those five would be removed from cabinet, but warned some veterans in safe seats could be expected to take one for the team.
“We’re in the seat-winning business and promoting others (in more vulnerable urban ridings to cabinet) could save their seats,” the third insider said.
“This is about the team and (Ford) understands that.”
Asked about concerns any scorned Tory MPPs might opt against running again next year if removed from cabinet, the official shot back, “We can find candidates to replace them (in their ridings) in 15 minutes.”
That’s because “these are legacy seats,” that the Tories hold even when they are in opposition, the insider said.
As part of his push for new energy in cabinet, sources say the premier also wants his executive council to be more representative of Ontario’s diversity.
“It’s too white and too male,” a top official said firmly.
Several insiders say Ford has been impressed by the performance of MPPs Stan Cho (Willowdale), Parm Gill (Milton), Nina Tangri (Mississauga-Streetsville), Vijay Thanigasalam (Scarborough-Rouge Park), and Effie Triantafilopoulos (Oakville North-Burlington), among others.
“He knows there’s a lot of talent there,” said a Tory insider.
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Some junior ministers can also expect to be promoted.
Associate Small Business Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Transportation Minister Kinga Surma, and Associate Women’s and Children’s Minister Jill Dunlop have all performed well, the insiders agreed.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has been angling to be moved because he’s concerned about teachers’ unions targeting his King-Vaughan riding next spring.
(In the 1999 election won by premier Mike Harris’s Tories, PC education minister David Johnson was defeated in Don Valley East after hundreds of unionized teachers volunteered to help Liberal David Caplan.)
Further complicating matters, the Conservatives are not yet sure if Health Minister Christine Elliott will choose to seek re-election next year in Newmarket-Aurora.
Those two senior portfolios could be linchpins to a bigger shuffle.
Another wild card is the return of Rod Phillips to cabinet.
Phillips resigned as finance minister on Dec. 31 after a controversial pandemic vacation to the Caribbean island of St. Barts.
Some around Ford insist he misses Phillips’s skills at the cabinet table and will bring him back in some role after more than five months in the penalty box.
“I really think he wants Rod back and so do we,” said a fourth PC insider. “(Phillips is) a steadying influence who supports the premier, which is why he’s helping out on the (re-election) campaign. It’s just a matter of whether … (the media) can get over the fact he f – – – – – up by taking a trip.”
A cabinet shuffle would be just one aspect of Ford recasting his government.
Two key departures are putting a new face on the public service and on the pandemic response.
The retirement of Steven Davidson, the secretary of the cabinet, and Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health, led to Ford making two major appointments in the past week.
Well-regarded hospital president Michelle DiEmanuele will be the new head of the Ontario public service and respected Kingston-area medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore will take over as the province’s top public health official later in June.
At the same time, Kory Teneycke, Ford’s 2018 campaign manager and a top lobbyist, is now working at Queen’s Park with the premier’s inner circle. He has taken a leave of absence from his firm, Rubicon Strategy, and is no longer lobbying.
Teneycke is getting polling help from Nick Kouvalis, whose company, Campaign Research, is a vendor to the PC Caucus Services Bureau and to the Ontario PC Party.
Kouvalis, who has worked with Conservative and Liberal candidates across Canada and managed the winning mayoral campaigns of John Tory and Rob Ford, has also done polls for the Star.
He declined to comment, explaining he cannot discuss his clients.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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