Premier Doug Ford will create a larger cabinet that better reflects Ontario’s diversity and puts his own stamp on government more firmly than he did four years ago, according to Progressive Conservative insiders.
Forming a cabinet will be job No. 1 for Ford in the wake of his re-election to a second term. With a larger crop of PC MPPs, most of whom have at least four years under their belts at Queen’s Park, Ford has a wider range of options than he had in selecting his first cabinet in 2018.
At that time, the only MPPs with experience in the Legislature were the PCs who had won their seats before Ford became leader — when the party was in opposition — making it a group that skewed toward the more rural parts of Ontario. All but one member of Ford’s first cabinet was white, and only seven were women.
Ford diversified his cabinet with a year to go in his first term, while replacing ministers who had objected to his pandemic response.
Now, with more MPPs than any Progressive Conservative premier since the 1950s and a bigger majority than his first term, political observers expect Ford to appoint a larger cabinet with more balanced regional, ethnic and gender representation.
“I think you can certainly expect the premier to at least slightly expand the size of his cabinet,” said Karl Baldauf, vice president at McMillan Vantage Policy Group, who served as chief of staff to then-president of Treasury Board, Peter Bethlenfalvy, during the government’s first term.
Baldauf said one of the challenges facing Ford is ensuring that all members of his larger PC caucus feel they are contributing to the success of the government.
Andrew Brander, who served as a senior adviser in the Ford government and is now a vice president at Crestview Strategy, says Ford will need to consider ethnic diversity and regional representation in creating his new cabinet.
At the same time, Brander says Ford’s election victory on a promise to “Get It Done” suggests he’ll want to retain continuity from his first term. All 25 of Ford’s cabinet ministers who sought re-election on June 2 retained their seats.
“I think that the cabinet is going to be largely reflective of the previous cabinet,” Brander said in an interview. He added that Ford can bring in fresh faces by creating new portfolios that focus on parts of major ministries and signal the government’s priorities.
Ford has leeway to appoint a larger cabinet with potentially 30-plus members, given both the strength of his majority and the fact that he talked far less often in this election about reining in the size and cost of government than he did last time.
The most important hole Ford needs to fill around the cabinet table is his health minister, following Christine Elliott’s decision in March to leave politics.
“The premier is going to need a strong performer, somebody who he can trust completely, somebody who knows how to handle the spotlight,” said Baldauf. “It’s going to be the biggest challenge that the premier and his transition team have over the coming weeks.”
Two names floated by sources as possibly becoming the next health minister: Sylvia Jones and Prabmeet Sarkaria, both of whom took on roles that related to the government’s COVID-19 pandemic response. As solicitor general, Jones became the minister responsible for the vaccine rollout, while Sarkaria, as head of the Treasury Board, oversaw development of the latest reopening plan.
Sources close to the government give Jones the edge. “The premier trusts her,” says one.
It’s expected Bethlenfalvy will remain finance minister, in part because Ford dumped his first two finance ministers, Vic Fedeli and Rod Phillips, before either managed to table a second budget, and the markets don’t like instability in that portfolio.
Multiple sources suggest Labour Minister Monte McNaughton is in line for a promotion after spearheading the government’s “working for workers” plan, which marked a shift political strategists say helped the PCs win previously NDP-held seats in industrial cities like Windsor, Hamilton and Timmins.
Ford hasn’t named a date for the swearing-in of cabinet. While there have been some reports it will happen soon, government officials say it’s not imminent and will likely not take place until the latter part of June.
Discussions are still ongoing about the a timeline for calling back the Legislature, delivering a throne speech and tabling the budget, said an official in the premier’s office, adding that no decisions have been made.