Ontario Premier Doug Ford will shuffle his cabinet on Thursday, following a series of poor polls barely a year into his Progressive Conservative government’s mandate.
A swearing-in ceremony for the new ministers is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at the lieutenant governor’s suite at Queen’s Park, to be followed by a photo opportunity in the cabinet room and a news conference.
Rumours that Ford would shuffle his cabinet have been swirling for two weeks. Multiple PC sources tell CBC News they expect the shuffle to be significant, with more than half of the current ministers on the move.
“It is a signal that we’re entering a new stage in our government’s mandate, and you’ll see that we’ve listened,” said a PC source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We have a lot of talent in our caucus, and the premier will only benefit from putting some of his very capable ministers in the forefront,” said the source. “We made a lot of big moves in the first year. We’ll continue to move on our core commitment of delivering for the people.”
The biggest question mark is whether Ford will shuffle Finance Minister Vic Fedeli. Two PC sources tell CBC News that several of Ford’s closest advisers are urging Ford to move Fedeli out of the portfolio. The PCs’ poll results dropped in the weeks following Fedeli’s April 11 budget, as cuts were revealed piece by piece, resulting in repeated negative media coverage.
However, it is rare for a government in Canada to demote a finance minister after just one budget. Other PC sources say Ford would be sending a message of panic by shuffling his finance minister, as it would suggest that the budget Fedeli crafted was headed in the wrong direction.
“Shuffling him out at this point in some ways would signal defeat,” said Sean Simpson, vice-president of polling firm Ipsos Public Affairs, in an interview Wednesday with CBC News.
Simpson said he doubts a shuffle will help Ford’s polling numbers in the short term. “But a different messenger, a different tone on the message over time could help the Tories rebound,” he said “Things can’t get a whole lot worse.”
Ford was booed loudly Monday by thousands of Toronto Raptors fans when he was introduced at the team’s championship rally at Nathan Phillips Square. The boos from the young, diverse crowd contrasted loudly with the warm reception for the two other politicians on stage at the event, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
Multiple PC sources predict Ford will increase the size of his cabinet by breaking up at least two ministries: Children, Community and Social Services, as well as Health and Long-Term Care. That would make room for some PC backbenchers, most likely from the Greater Toronto Area, to get into cabinet.
The sources all predict Education Minister Lisa Thompson will be shuffled out of her portfolio as the province enters negotiations with the teachers’ unions.
Ministers who could see a promotion include Environment Minister Rod Phillips, the media-savvy former CEO of Ontario Lottery and Gaming; and Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek, praised by PC insiders for fronting the province’s plan to take over construction of new subway lines in Toronto.
When asked recently about the possibility of a shuffle, Ford said he has the “best cabinet this province has ever seen.”
But, he said, each and every one of them was “more than capable of hopping into any portfolio.”
Ford’s last shuffle was in November, when about half a dozen ministers were reassigned following the resignation of Jim Wilson to seek treatment for addiction issues.