While the return of disgraced former Finance Minister Rod Phillips to Ford’s inner circle grabbed the headlines, other moves have slipped under the radar
Doug Ford’s highly anticipated cabinet reshuffle landed mostly with a thud on Friday.
But while most mainstream media reporting has focused on the return of disgraced former finance minister Rod Phillips at Ford’s inner circle, there were a few other notable moves – and non-moves – that flew under the radar.
As always with Ford, if you really want to know what’s going on, just follow the money.
But first to Phillips, who succeeds Merrilee Fullerton as Minister of Long-Term Care. There are two ways to look at this one.
Some Queen’s Park insiders have suggested Ford is putting Phillips’ well-known leadership aspirations to political death by placing him in a dead end wallet. That could be part of the equation after the tragic mess the Ford government made of the pandemic response in Ontario nursing homes.
But given Phillips’ many high-profile business interests outside of politics, the move looks more like a continuation of the Ford government’s agenda to grease the wheels of the Prime Minister’s friends in the for-profit healthcare sector.
Before getting into trouble for covering up his trip to St. Barts during the vacation lockdown, Phillips made another trip to Switzerland for what at the time was referred to as “personal” matters. Phillips still hasn’t explained this publicly. The truth is, Ford never wanted to let Phillips go. He lends the government some much needed gravity.
Then there’s Fullerton, whose neglect of the COVID crisis in long-term care allowed the virus to run rampant and arguably contributed to countless unnecessary deaths. She was transferred to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, which has been called a demotion by some in the media.
On the contrary, it is the third largest ministry in the province after health and education. If his long-term care sentence is any clue, then there’s no doubt Fullerton was sent to cover the Ford government’s dismantling of the social safety net. It was in high gear before COVID became a devouring crisis for Queen’s Park. We can expect the cuts to continue at a steady pace as the province tries to emerge from a COVID-induced budget crisis.
Equally telling are the steps Ford failed to take.
Stephen Lecce, for example, who acted as Ford’s go-to boy during his tenure as education minister, will remain in that seat – at least, for now.
Rumor had it that Lecce was about to come out. But for Ford, any attempt to sideline him now would be seen as an admission of the government’s failure on education. Also, the former Harper follower might have his eye on a federal run and be gone in the fall anyway. In the meantime, there are still teacher unions to thwart and the privatization of education to continue.
Steve Clark is another notable who stays put. The Minister of Municipal Affairs, who has been tasked with doing Ford’s dirty work on the development file, has done a tremendous job in ensuring that the Prime Minister’s friends in the development industry enjoy complete freedom for him to become a legend in his own mind.
Party insiders have been cited as framing the cabinet changes in an attempt to give the government a more diverse face.
On this front there is the inclusion of Parm Gill as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration as well as Kaleed Rasheed and others. But those choices have more to do with strengthening Ford’s support in the 905, particularly in Mississauga and Brampton.
Here, too, Brampton-South rookie Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, the former Associate Minister of Small Business, made the leap to the prestigious post of President of the Treasury Board, seemingly on little more than the strength of an allegiance without shame at Ford. Sarkaria has been a resource person in the Ford government attacks, blaming the federal government’s (allegedly) lax border policies for the COVID crisis.
But as hospitals were on the brink of COVID collapse in his backyard in Peel Region, Sarkaria made headlines by questioning the effectiveness of Pfizer’s vaccine. At the age of 32, the former corporate lawyer quickly established a reputation as a true Ford supporter.
Speaking of loyalty, Caroline Mulroney, Ford’s transport minister, has been largely ignored by commentators reading the tea leaves on Ford’s cabinet reshuffle. If you are looking for future leadership candidates, then it is Mulroney who could pose the biggest threat to Ford. His demotion to transport from his previous post as attorney general in the latest cabinet remake was widely seen as an attempt to put aside his leadership aspirations. Since then, she has been biding her time.
Its former associate minister, Kinga Surma, has been promoted to minister of infrastructure. As someone whose close personal ties to Ford have come under scrutiny in the past – and who will now be in charge of hundreds of millions of dollars of investments in schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, public transportation and other services – this one has all the makings of a train wreck.