LILLY: Ford cabinet is doing its best to balance competing interests

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Doug Ford let his cabinet members sweat on a hot and muggy Thursday in Toronto without letting them know if they were back in the ranks or leaving. When members of the Ford Progressive Conservatives group were sworn in as members of the 43rd Provincial Parliament late in the evening, cabinet ministers were still receiving calls.

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Who’s there and who’s not is something the government is trying to keep under wraps despite a lot of speculation.

“Geography, gender, ethnicity and then skill is how a cabinet is selected,” said a senior party official.

This is a rough estimate of the political process, but it is not wrong. Regardless of party, cabinet decisions are made after considering a variety of factors that do not always prioritize skill set or competence.

And sometimes the portfolio competency can be missed because the person being nominated doesn’t have other skills, such as the ability to communicate and get information across to government. If someone is going to reform a certain department but cannot explain what the government is trying to do, the whole project can fail.

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Ford is not expected to change as many portfolios in his cabinet, but may expand as he tries to give some two-portfolio ministers a breather and tries to give new faces a seat at the table.

Much of the cabinet’s early speculation centered on who would replace Christine Elliott as Secretary of Health. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Ford said he consulted with Elliott about who would be best suited for the role.

There is a consensus in this speculative world that Sivia Jones will take on this role. Jones was first elected in 2011 for the Dufferin-Caledon rider and, despite holding several positions as PC critic in opposition, was not the Cabinet favorite in 2018 but is now Ford’s favorite.

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“Jones has earned his respect,” said one of the prime minister’s longtime confidants.

When Ford was first elected prime minister, he did not really know Jones, who barely made his way into the cabinet. She was appointed Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sports in June 2018, but moved to Solicitor General in November of that year because he impressed her.

“She was the girl in school with binders and markers and homework done,” the source said, describing how prepared Jones was and how serious she was about each of her roles. This is the trait that endeared her to the prime minister.

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Other major ministries, such as the ministries of education and finance, are expected to remain the same. Peter Bethlenfalvi is seen as a firm hand in finance, while Stephen Lecce is likely to stay in education to negotiate tough contract negotiations with teacher unions.

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There was much speculation that Ross Romano would be thrown out of office in favor of a rookie but fellow Northerner like George Peary. Peary was Mayor of Timmins and defeated longtime NDP MP Giles Bisson.

The last time the PCs held any part of this territory was in 1990.

There is also much speculation that longtime MP and cabinet minister Lisa McLeod will be overlooked. One source said that her staff had been told to look for other work outside of Queen’s Park and that they would not be part of the government.

McLeod created problems for the Ford government during the pandemic with her dealings with the hospitality and tourism industry and spending stories during the campaign.

The cabinet swearing-in ceremony will take place on Friday at 11:15 a.m. in front of the Legislative Assembly building in Queen’s Park.

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