A glance at the before-and-after picture of the Ford Cabinet provides ample evidence that politics is the toughest, most ruthless game there is. Only the Taliban play dirtier. This is not a Ford phenomenon—every political party, from the nomination process, to cabinet selection (and cabinet de-selection), treats people like they are disposable chess pieces. Even the Greens are duking it out in Ottawa.
In readying his government for next year’s election Ford dumped five ministers with a combined 70 years’ experience, representing rural and northern ridings and replaced them with a much more ethnically and gender-diverse group of MPP’s drawn almost exclusively from GTHA ridings, where the next election will be won or lost.
Say goodbye, (from the cabinet table at least) to Jeff Yurek, (Elgin Middlesex London), John Yakabuski (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke), Laurie Scott (Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock), Bill Walker (Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound)
And Ernie Hardeman (Oxford). In dropping these ministers Ford is making a fairly safe bet that the ridings they represent are so staunchly Conservative, that he can hold those ridings whether the incumbents run again or not. Yurek’s riding has the word London in it, but it is essentially the old Elgin-St Thomas riding that has returned Tories by wide margins in the last three elections. Yakabuski has held his riding for nearly two decades and Hardiman has been representing Oxford for 26 years. Aside from being older and more easily replaced, there has been a suggestion that some of these deposed ministers, representing rural ridings, were also critics of Ford’s lockdown policies during the pandemic. In the case of Yurek it is whispered that he may have dropped the ball on the government’s attempts to reorganize the blue box program. Five-term MPP Laurie Scott has been nothing but a good foot soldier. It was she who resigned her seat to make room for then Conservative Leader John Tory, and after Tory failed to capture the seat; sat on the sidelines for two years, until she won the seat again. But Scott also was a supporter of Ford’s main rival for the leadership, Christine Elliott, and local media in cottage country wonder if that played a role in the Premier’s decision.
Replacing them at the table and at the same time adding to the size of cabinet are, Kinga Surma (Etobicoke Centre), Prabmeet Sakaria (Brampton South), Parm Gill (Milton), Dave Piccini (Northumberland-Peterborough South), Stan Cho (Willowdale), Nina Tangri (Mississauga-Streetsville), Kaleed Rasheed (Mississauga East Cooksville) and our own Jane McKenna (Burlington), giving Halton two faces at the Cabinet table.
There has been some criticism of Ford for bringing back Rod Phillips into the cabinet, but Phillips was a capable Minister before his ill-fated trip to St Bart’s during the pandemic; and while the fireside Christmas sweater and maple syrup were a bit much, you have to ask what is an appropriate punishment in a world where everything has become a capital offence.
Some are also asking why Merilee Fullarton is still in Cabinet. We are probably in the minority in saying the main reason she couldn’t do more in the long-term care department was because she effectively had no ministry and no money. That came out in the public inquiry into the LTC crisis, and it’s worth noting the independent final report, unlike the NDP, did not lay the blame at Fullarton’s feet. For Phillips it’s not exactly a gift to be shoved into a ministry that will need to be re-built from the ground up. Fullarton, meanwhile moves to a portfolio that has a big budget and lots of experts on board.
So Ford has his election team in place with a vote a year off, and vaccine pouring into Ontario at a million dose-a-week clip. He is determined to see that Ontarians have as normal a summer as possible, and kids back in class in the fall. And hoping by the time next June rolls around, Ontarians will be in a generous mood.