Unless something changes radically in the last two days of the campaign, we’re going to be seeing a change in government at Queen’s Park. Both the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats are well ahead of the Liberals, who could very well be poised to lose recognized-party status in the legislature. Premier Kathleen Wynne has already conceded that Liberal cabinet ministers won’t be keeping their jobs for long after June 7.
Generally speaking, new cabinets are named two or three weeks after a change in leadership, giving incumbents time to clear out their desks (or, more notoriously, to try to illegally delete sensitive government data) while the premier’s office selects new MPPs for ministerial posts.
So sometime before Canada Day, there will be a new cabinet — one led by a Premier Doug Ford or a Premier Andrea Horwath. What will that look like?
Neither party wanted to comment on the record about any discussions on cabinet formation.
“We're taking nothing for granted and working day in and day out to earn the trust of the people of Ontario. Part of doing that is showcasing our experienced and qualified slate of candidates across the province who will form a strong team that is ready to govern on day one,” Ford spokesperson Melissa Lantsman told TVO.org. Lantsman then proceeded to outline the PC criticisms of various NDP candidates, before adding, “The NDP aren’t ready to govern.”
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NDP spokesperson Rebecca Elming was similarly coy.
“The NDP won’t get ahead of itself — no party has the right to measure for drapes at Queen’s Park just yet,” Elming told TVO.org. “However, the NDP has a candidate team that is 56 per cent women, representing an array of professions and experiences including agriculture, education, law, and the health-care sector. Our team is confident that, should Andrea Horwath earn people’s trust and be elected premier on June 7, she will have a team of very capable MPPs to draw from to serve in Ontario’s next cabinet.”
(For the record, Green Party leader Mike Schreiner has also said explicitly that he does not expect to form government after this election.)
The Tories are at this point likely better prepared to form a cabinet after election day: their pre-election caucus was larger and included some who had been MPPs in the last PC government, which left office in 2003. Jim Wilson and Ernie Hardeman both held ministerial portfolios the last time their party held the premier’s office.
The NDP have no candidates who served in Bob Rae’s cabinet, the only NDP government to date: the most senior New Democrat running in 2018 is Gilles Bisson, who never served as a minister in that administration.
One point on which the parties may end up differing is the size of the cabinet they produce. Under previous leaders, the PCs have repeatedly lambasted the Liberals for what the Tories said were bloated cabinets. The Liberal cabinet currently has 28 ministers (including the premier herself). Mike Harris’ first cabinet had fewer than 20.
As for who will become ministers, that will naturally depend on who actually wins their seats next week. But some names are almost certain to be at the top of any cabinet list. The Progressive Conservatives held an event this week to emphasize the strength of their candidates, including former interim leader Vic Fedeli and Ford’s former rivals for the party leadership, Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney. Elliott was the health critic under Tim Hudak and the province’s patient ombudsman until Patrick Brown resigned, so she’s a potential health minister. Newer faces like Rod Phillips (the PC candidate in Ajax) or Peter Bethlenfalvy (Pickering–Uxbridge) could be tapped for the Finance Ministry. If Greg Rickford wins his seat in Kenora–Rainy River, he’ll be able to bring his experience as Minister of Natural Resources in Stephen Harper’s government to the provincial cabinet table.
When it comes to the NDP, nearly everyone who spoke with TVO.org named France Gelinas (the candidate for Nickel Belt) as a potential health minister. Finance could include John Vanthof, the party’s critic on the file before the election, or Waterloo’s Catherine Fife, who held the portfolio before him.
However, an NDP source emphasized that a Premier Andrea Horwath wouldn’t necessarily feel bound to restrict portfolios solely to veteran MPPs. And there may be some surprise performers — some of the NDP’s strongest ministers in Rae’s government didn’t have conventional CVs. Frances Lankin, for example, who served variously as minister of government services, minister of health, and minister of economic development, had previously worked as a correctional officer before coming to Queen’s Park.
“I look to someone like Frances Lankin, now Senator Lankin, who was an extraordinary minister throughout various portfolios,” says Kim Wright, vice-president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. “She continues to be respected for her contributions to the broader public-policy discourse.”
Both parties have former school trustees, mayors, and city councillors on their slates, so finding people with experience in education or municipal affairs won’t be difficult. The NDP will have no trouble finding a labour minister, given the large number of labour activists on their roster.
One ministry worth mentioning is the Attorney General, which is traditionally reserved for a lawyer. (The one exception in Ontario history was Marion Boyd, who was responsible for the portfolio under the NDP in the 1990s.) The PCs will have several lawyers in their caucus if they form government, including Elliott and Mulroney, but the NDP elected none in the last legislature. It does, though, have several in the current list of candidates, some of whom hail from the 905 — an area the party is trying hard to win this time around.
Some MPPs will probably be stuck on the backbench, at least initially. While Donna Skelly (the PC candidate in Flamborough–Glanbrook) was invited to Doug Ford’s team event earlier this week, recent allegations of her associations with far-right figures may keep her out of cabinet. Similarly, Gurratan Singh may be a New Democrat lawyer, but a photo of him protesting law enforcement (and holding a sign that read “Fuck the Police”) will rule him out as Attorney General.
We are, of course, getting ahead of ourselves. Before anyone gets to choose a cabinet, the voters will have to finish electing a legislature — they’ll do so in two days.