Bill Davis was premier of Ontario from 1971 to 1985 and loved almost everything about having that job. He had it longer than anyone else (save and except for Oliver Mowat, who was first elected to the premiership 100 years before Davis got it).
But there was one thing about being Ontario’s first minister that Davis just couldn’t stand. He knew the job required it from time to time, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Davis just hated dumping ministers from cabinet.
“I found it so distasteful,” he once told me. “Because essentially you’re telling someone, your career as you knew it is over.”
In fact, Davis so disliked dumping ministers, he often had his cabinet secretary Ed Stewart make the calls for him.
Indeed, it’s the rare politician who is appointed to cabinet, gets dropped, and then through a series of unexpected twists and turns, finds him or herself back at the cabinet table. That actually happened in last Friday’s shuffle: former finance minister Rod Phillips, who resigned after an ill-advised trip last December to St. Bart’s while the province was technically in lock-down, was brought back to be the new minister for long-term care.
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There are six former backbenchers in the Progressive Conservative government’s caucus who received perhaps the most exciting phone call of their lives last week. They got the news that Premier Doug Ford wanted them sitting at the cabinet table, running a department, and helping advise him on government policy.
But their elation came at the expense of five others who were dropped. In a province of nearly 15 million people, just 29 MPPs have seats at that most coveted political table.
Ernie Hardeman won’t be there any longer. The 73-year-old MPP since 1995 had served three Tory premiers in cabinet: Mike Harris, Ernie Eves, and Doug Ford.
Before becoming a minister in 2018, John Yakabuski had the distinction of being the longest-serving PC MPP in this house never to sit at the cabinet table. He was elected in 2003, then spent the next 15 years in opposition. He waited a long time to sit at the big kids’ table. It was something his father, Paul, who spent 24 years on the backbenches under three Tory premiers, was never called to do. Yakabuski celebrated his 64th birthday a week ago today. Four days later, he was dropped.
Bill Walker is in his mid-fifties, and Jeff Yurek is only 49. Both were elected for the first time a decade ago, and neither survived last Friday’s shuffle.
Laurie Scott, like Yakabuski, is a second-generation politician. Her father, Bill, was an MP for 28 years but died five years before his daughter was elected to the Ontario legislature in 2003. Also like Yakabuski, Scott achieved something her father never did: she made it to cabinet after Ford’s win three years ago.
“Cabinet shuffles come and go,” Scott told me in a phone call last night, sounding very philosophical about having been dropped.
Scott understandably wasn’t keen to indulge in any speculation as to why her cabinet career was over (for now). However, she did (with a wink and a nudge) confirm that Ford himself delivered the news.
“The premier is very good at caucus relations,” was the way she put it. “He personally keeps in touch with caucus.”
Scott has been a good and loyal PC soldier for a long time. In 2007, after former leader John Tory found himself seatless following that election, Scott resigned her Haliburton–Kawartha Lakes–Brock seat, forcing the byelection in her safe Conservative riding that presumably would have returned her leader to the house. But when the Liberals astonished everyone by winning that byelection, both Tory and Scott were out of provincial politics. (Scott would reclaim her seat in the 2011 general election.)
Scott has been the minister of infrastructure for the past two years and has championed the government’s $2.8 billion investment in improving broadband service across the province.
“I live in rural Ontario, and 40,000 of my constituents are not connected to any, or to bad, broadband service,” she said. “It’s been the number one economic stimulus problem to get solved.”
She also looks back with pride on the health-care public-private partnerships and subway construction advanced by Infrastructure Ontario.
Scott’s first year in cabinet was as the minister of labour, during which time she went to bat for so-called double hatters — professional (often unionized) firefighters who wanted to volunteer in smaller municipalities that didn’t have the resources to hire full-time crews. Those “double hatters” often faced reprisals from unions until Scott’s Bill 57 banned the practice.
“Professional firefighters don’t deserve to be persecuted for volunteering, nor should they fear being a local hero,” Scott tweeted at the time. “I’ve fought for this for 15 years, and now our government is restoring fairness in the firefighting industry.”
Despite the demotion, Scott will run again in the election next June, aiming to win her sixth campaign. “My passion is the people in my riding,” she says. “I’ve been in politics the better part of 20 years. I’m proud of the time I spent in cabinet, and I’ll always work hard for this government.”