Ontario Premier Doug Ford was dealt another blow on Friday after Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told the premier he would leave cabinet and step down as MPP to pursue a position in the private sector.
McNaughton, who was first elected as the MPP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex in 2011, said in a statement he was considering the change for months before informing the premier of his decision to step down.
“I have spoken with Premier Ford to let him know that I am stepping down from my cabinet duties immediately and will be resigning my seat in the days ahead,” McNaughton said in a statement. “I will not be seeking re-election.”
In a statement from the Premier’s Office, Ford praised McNaughton for his service and said the decision was based on what is “best for him and his family.” Ford’s statement also acknowledged the significant contributions McNaughton made to the party and the premier’s 2022 re-election.
“In the last two years alone, he introduced three separate pieces of legislation focused solely on working for workers. Monte helped build a coalition of private-sector union support that has never existed in the history of the Ontario PC Party,” Ford said. “I’m very grateful for Monte’s work as a key member of our team, both as minister of infrastructure and, more recently, minister of labour, immigration, training, and skills development.”
McNaughton’s resignation, however, comes during the height of the Greenbelt controversy that has claimed the positions of at least two cabinet ministers and two senior government staffers, and has forced the premier to backtrack on the unpopular policy.
- Bonnie Crombie declared new Ontario Liberal leader after three rounds of voting
- Quebec teachers accuse Legault of ’emotional blackmail’ after plea to end indefinite strike
- Air pollution in Sarnia-area linked to increased cancer risk: health review
- CSIS to probe B.C. office over sex assault, harassment allegations
Ford, who met with Progressive Conservative MPPs at a caucus retreat in Niagara Falls this week, said he learned more about the province-wide blowback to the decision to open up 7,400 acres of protected Greenbelt land for development during a meeting with elected colleagues.
PC party sources, with firsthand knowledge of the caucus meeting with the premier, said MPPs aired their grievances about the way the Greenbelt scandal has been handled and voters concerns about perception of corruption.
Ford, one source said, was told that voters have “lost faith and do not trust the premier,” while another suggested the scandal was “the beginning of the end.”
One day after that meeting took place, Ford announced a complete dismantling of the government’s Greenbelt land swap.
“It was a mistake to open the Greenbelt,” Ford said. “As a first step to earn back your trust, I’ll be reversing the changes we made and won’t make any changes to the Greenbelt in the future.”
While the move was aimed at regaining political balance, the loss of McNaughton could raise questions about whether the premier has lost the confidence of his cabinet ministers.
McNaughton has been a highly regarded labour minister who helped transform the PC party’s relationship with private-sector unions giving the party an electoral boost in the 2022 general election.
His departure, widely viewed as a significant loss for the premier, also led to some internal frustrations.
“This is treacherous timing,” one PC party insider told Global News. “To do it the day after the premier has a vulnerable news conference.”
“It doesn’t help,” the source acknowledged.
McNaughton, known in Conservative circles as a potential future leadership candidate, attempted dispel any concerns about the motives for his resignation.
“I realize that recent events will cause some to speculate about the reasons for my departure,” McNaughton said. “I want those people to know that my decision is completely unrelated to those events.”
“I support Premier Ford and am proud to have served in his cabinet.”
— With files from Ryan Rocca