As the Doug Ford government prepares to mark a full year since being sworn-in, sources inside the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario say Ford is considering a “reset” of his cabinet.
PC party insiders Global News spoke with said while Ford hasn’t made any final decisions, cabinet changes could involve the most senior members of the government.
The possible move comes after a series of negative headlines surrounding financial cuts contained in the government’s April budget that have come out over the course of several weeks, such as slashing funding for public health units, environmental initiatives, research and technology, arts and culture programs and reduced funding for Legal Aid.
“The premier has taken too much direct heat for the budget role out. The minister of finance’s job is to own the budget, and he is asleep at the wheel,” a source not authorized to discuss matters surrounding the cabinet publicly told Global News.
It’s believed Ford is considering the replacement of Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, potentially moving him to a new, large ministry dedicated to northern Ontario. There has been talk about merging various ministries to accomplish this goal. To replace Fedeli, sources said Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy is being considered.
“A reset after year one makes sense. By now they have learned which rising stars to elevate and which lacklustre performers to replace,” the source said.
“The government built this cabinet with caucus members who had experience in opposition. They helped steer the ship through early rough waters while the newbies get their sea legs.”
Among the newer faces possibly destined for cabinet are King-Vaughan MPP Stephen Lecce, who serves as a parliamentary assistant to Ford and to Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton. Lecce is seen by insiders as a capable communicator. Sources also said Stan Cho, the MPP for Willowdale and parliamentary assistant to Bethlenfalvy, is also in the running for a cabinet position.
“Lecce worked for former prime minister Stephen Harper in communications. He knows how to get a focused message across and the premier’s office sees him as someone who may be able to take on Justin Trudeau on issues like the carbon tax fight,” a source said.
“Cho is positioned well to take on Toronto issues and go head-to-head with Mayor Tory.”
Those who could potentially be dropped from cabinet include Michael Tibollo. The Vaughan—Woodbridge MPP was demoted to Tourism, Culture and Sport minister in November from the Community Safety and Correctional Services ministry. He faced criticism and accusations of racism shortly after being appointed to cabinet. Tibollo made comments about wearing a bulletproof vest in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
Sources said Education Minister Lisa Thompson could also lose her portfolio and be demoted to Agriculture.
Other changes floated include breaking up Lisa MacLeod’s Children, Community and Social Services ministry, which was formed when the Ford government took office and possibly separating the long-term care responsibilities away from Health Minister Christine Elliott.
Ford and members of his cabinet were sworn in June 29, just more than three weeks after the 2018 Ontario election.
“There’s no better time to do a shuffle. It gives ministers five months to learn their new portfolios,” a source said.
“Some ministers are under performing right now. They will be moved to lesser roles. Others including ministers and parliamentary assistants that are doing a good job, especially on the communication front, will be elevated.”