Ford to shuffle cabinet on Thursday in the wake of troubling polls and public boos
|Toronto Star 19 Jun 2019 at 15:48|
As Premier Doug Ford gets set to shuffle his cabinet, senior Progressive Conservative sources confide that he is wrestling with replacing Finance Minister Vic Fedeli.
Stung by a spate of troubling public-opinion polls and with the boos of tens of thousands of Raptors’ , Ford wants to “reset” a government that marks its first anniversary next week.
To that end, the premier will shuffle — and expand — the cabinet Thursday morning at Queen’s Park.
The reorganization, which will elevate some backbenchers to an enlarged executive council, comes after seven polls in the past six weeks suggested Ford’s popularity is plunging.
At Monday’s massive celebration for the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship at Nathan Phillips Square, he was loudly booed while Mayor John Tory and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a friendlier reception.
Ford’s allies blame a lacklustre budget rollout for his diminished standing.
Although the premier routinely refers to Fedeli as “an all-star” and “a champion,” some of his top advisers were urging him to elevate Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy or Environment Minister Rod Phillips to Finance.
Ford has also dubbed both Bethlenfalvy and Phillips — and most of the rest of cabinet — “all-stars” and “champions.”
The Star reported last Wednesday that Ford has privately expressed disappointment with the rollout of the April 11 budget — a record $163.4-billion fiscal blueprint that spends $4.9 billion more than last year’s Liberal expenditure plan.
“Vic is getting the blame for that,” said one high-ranking Conservative insider, speaking confidentially in order to reveal internal deliberations.
In contrast, Bethlenfalvy is winning plaudits for his announcement last week that most public-service wage settlements would be limited to 1 per cent annual increases for the next three years.
While Ford was bracing for criticism and protests over the austerity measure, the Treasury Board president’s demeanour — and his methodical seven-week consultation with unions and other stakeholders — have so far kept things calm.
“Bay Street likes Peter,” a Bethlenfalvy booster said of the first-term Pickering-Uxbridge MPP.
Similarly, Phillips has earned kudos from Ford for extricating Ontario from its cap-and-trade climate-change alliance with Quebec and California and for being one of the government’s strongest communicators.
When former PC leader Patrick Brown recruited both men from Bay Street in 2017 it was expected one of them would be finance minister.
But Fedeli, who was briefly interim party leader after Brown left under a cloud in January 2018, has been a party stalwart and is fiercely loyal to Ford.
“It’s not Vic’s fault the budget has rolled out the way it has. The cuts come from Treasury Board,” a Fedeli ally confided.
Indeed, the day the budget was released, the media coverage was generally positive. But over the past two months the cuts have dominated the headlines.
“The budget was driven from the (premier’s office). The comms plan came from the centre,” said another Fedeli backer.
Yet another senior Conservative official, speaking confidentially because he is privy to sensitive discussions, is urging Ford not to shuffle Fedeli.
“It sends a message of panic,” said the Tory insider, noting the demotion of a finance minister would be “unprecedented” in recent Canadian political history.
Still, it was being actively considered Wednesday night.
Ford is also expected to shuffle Education Minister Lisa Thompson, who has sparred with school boards and teachers’ unions over increased class sizes, and remove the responsibilities for autism services from Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod.
The premier has said his biggest regret since taking office is the handling of the autism file.
Two weeks ago, Ford insisted he has “the best cabinet this province has ever seen and I’ll put it up against any government in Ontario.”
“The men and women standing behind me each and every one of them are more than capable of hopping into any portfolio and getting a job done,” he said June 7, surrounded by the cabinet.