Ontario Premier Doug Ford was handed a shock resignation on Friday as Social Services Minister Merrilee Fullerton announced she was quitting politics and immediately stepping down as cabinet minister and Progressive Conservative MPP.
Fullerton announced on Twitter that she “spoke with the premier and tendered her resignation” on Friday afternoon but did not provide a clear reason for her departure.
Instead, Fullerton posted her resignation letter on social media announcing she would resign as the MPP for Kanata-Carleton and as Minister of Children, Community & Social Services, effective immediately.
“It has been an honour and a privilege to serve Ontarians as a member of provincial parliament and cabinet minister over the past five years,” Fullerton said in the letter to Premier Ford.
Ford announced later on Friday that he had named Michael Parsa as the new Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, and Nina Tangri as Associate Minister of Housing.
“I’m thrilled to recognize Michael’s many contributions to our government and welcome Nina back to Cabinet,” Ford said in the announcement.
Ford said Fullerton has been a “key member of our team since day one,” adding that she helped to lead the province’s COVID-19 response by “serving in important roles in Cabinet.”
“I wish my friend the very best as she retires from the world of politics,” Ford said in a statement. “I have no doubt she’ll continue to give back and contribute to the great communities of Kanata and Carleton in so many ways.”
The announcement from Fullerton came as a surprise to multiple Progressive Conservatives who spoke to Global News about her unexpected departure.
“I’m shocked, to be honest with you,” said Michael Tibollo, the associate minister of mental health and addictions. “She’s a great contributor to cabinet, a great colleague and I’m really sorry to lose her.”
PC party sources said Fullerton broke the news to staff just minutes before it was made public Friday and that her announcement “came right out of the blue.”
While members of the Ontario PC party said they didn’t know the reason behind her departure, some told Global News Fullerton did not “seem her usual self” in recent months.
Fullerton, who was first elected in 2018 after working as a family physician in the Ottawa area, held a number of cabinet positions throughout her tenure in the Ford government.
Her most high-profile position as the minister of long-term care proved to be her most controversial.
While Fullerton expressed early fears about asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in Ontario’s 626 nursing homes, according to the provincial commission of inquiry into long-term care, she eventually — and forcefully — pushed back against criticism of her handling of the situation.
“We didn’t start the fire,” Fullerton told journalists in 2021 about the situation in long-term care which claimed the lives of thousands of seniors.
Fullerton was soon shuffled out of cabinet and moved into social services — where critics claimed she “ghosted” families of children with autism.
Party insiders also characterize Fullerton as a thin-skinned politician who “never really settled into the political job.”
“She felt everyone was working against her – the media, the premier’s office, the premier, other ministers,” the PC party source said. “It created such a difficult working environment.”
-with a file from Global News’ Hannah Jackson