Doug Ford gears up for revamped wardrobe

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Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

As Premier Doug Ford prepares to reorganize his cabinet after the landslide victory of the Progressive Conservatives, this is his message to cabinet candidates.

« I don’t discuss cabinet positions and I have one rule with our caucus: don’t lobby me for cabinet, » Ford said the morning after his party’s June 2 triumph.

“No one is pressuring me or (is) pressuring your supporters. It doesn’t work that way with me. We sit down, we do an assessment,” he said.

Jamie Wallace, Ford’s chief of staff, leads the transition team of a dozen members who will make recommendations to him to redo the cabinet.

« At the end of the day, it’s the prime minister’s call, » said a senior Tory official, speaking confidentially to discuss internal deliberations.

The top priority is to appoint a replacement for Health Minister Christine Elliott, who did not seek re-election.

Sources say the favorites to succeed Elliott, who is also deputy premier, are Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark.

« Sylvia has done an amazing job during the pandemic and Steve has handled some tough cases for us, » a second conservative insider said.

In the wake of COVID-19 and in view of the massive hospital expansions it has promised over the next few years, Ford wants to bolster the Department of Health, which is already consuming almost half of the provincial budget.

« Don’t be surprised if you see an associate minister for hospital infrastructure reporting to the (new) health minister, » said a third PC source with knowledge of the proposals.

A fourth insider pointed out that the cabinetmaking was only at the « early stage » and that it could be two weeks before ministers were appointed.

« There is a lot of good work going on on our plans for the (second) term. »

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, Treasury Board President Prabmeet Sarkaria, Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney and Education Minister Stephen Lecce are expected to retain their current roles.

“Peter and Prab have done a good job on the numbers; Caroline will be busy with (proposed highway) 413 and the Bradford Bypass; and Lecce have to deal with teacher contracts,” the first source said, referring to the challenges ahead.

With 83 MPs, up from the 76 his party won in the 2018 election, Ford plans to expand the cabinet from the current 28 members.

Among the newcomers the prime minister plans to recruit for ministerial posts are: Patrice Barnes (Ajax); Andrew Dowie (Windsor-Tecumseh); George Pirie (Timmins); Charmaine Williams (Brampton Centre); Rob Flack (Elgin-Middlesex-London); and Jess Dixon (Kitchener South-Hespeler).

« There are geographical considerations now that we have won seats in Windsor, Timmins and Hamilton, » noted the second Tory.

Ford has already telegraphed that he could appoint a Hamilton regional minister – either newly elected Canadian Football League legend Neil Lumsden or MPP Donna Skelly (Flamborough-Glanbrook).

“I want to thank Neil Lumsden and Donna Skelly, two great, great MPs. They will both play a vital role in our government,” the Prime Minister said on June 3.

In any reshuffle there are casualties and Ford is set to put up to two ministers in the ‘penalty box’ for transgressions that emerged during the campaign.

Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod and Associate Minister for Digital Government Kaleed Rasheed angered her when it emerged they had received payments from their constituency associations to top up their salaries.

« I wasn’t too happy, » the Prime Minister said last month when the payments made headlines, warning he would « take a good look at these rules and tighten them up ».

While Rasheed rolled out Ontario’s digital vaccine passport well and could be spared, MacLeod hurt her chances of staying in cabinet by feuding with families of autistic children during the election period.

She also kept the media away from her victory celebration on June 2, sparking viral CTV Ottawa video viewed 166,000 times.

Another cabinet member who could be jettisoned is Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Michael Tibollo, despite Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca’s defeat in Vaughan-Woodbridge.

“He didn’t beat anyone. Doug Ford beat the leader,” the third PC insider noted, pointing out that Tibollo has already been demoted twice in previous upsets.

Geographic considerations could cost Government and Consumer Services Minister Ross Romano of Sault Ste. Marie, his cabinet seat.

« You can’t really have four ministers from Northern Ontario, » the second Tory said, referring to Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, Northern Development and Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford and Pirie, a popular Timmins mayor who ousted the 32-year-old NDP MP. Gilles Bisson.

« So Ross could lose. »

Other ministers who were instrumental in the electoral triumph are singled out for praise from Ford’s inner circle.

Labor Minister Monte McNaughton, key in the Big Blue Collar Machine campaign to attract union workers, and Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop are being congratulated for all they have done during the campaign.

‘(Attorney General) Doug Downey wouldn’t be an MP if it wasn’t for Jill,’ the second Tory said, referring to Dunlop sending dozens of his supporters to help Downey, who only won Barrie-Springwater -Oro-Medonte only by 296 votes, on June 2.

« Jill and Monte were great team players and it shows. »

Besides the cabinetry, the premier’s team is working on a Speech from the Throne outlining the government’s agenda, which is expected to be delivered later this summer.

After that, the Tories will reintroduce and pass Bethlenfalvy’s April 28 budget with some minor changes.

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief at Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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