It’s been just over a year since Ontarians elected the Ford Conservatives to a majority government and it’s not been a smooth ride so far. Between the massive cuts all over the place, to the erratic nature of the Premier, to getting booed in public multiple time (including by a million or so people at the Toronto Raptor victory celebration on Monday), it’s been anything but stable. As you can imagine, that hasn’t done good things for the Conservatives poll numbers in the province, as Premier Ford managed to have his personal approval numbers drop to historic lows before celebrating his first year in office.
It’s been an almost circus-like spectacle folks, it really has been. A week after they adjourned the Ontario Legislature for five months, Doug Ford decided to make some changes to his cabinet to try to turn the tide. Those changes were announced today and man, they are something:
A bloodbath? Most heavy-handed cabinet shuffle ever? That might have sounded like hyperbole but man did this shuffle ever deliver on that billing. This has to be one of the biggest and most significant cabinet shuffles we’ve seen at any level in Canada in a generation or two. Huge demotions all over the place, as Vic Fideli, Lisa MacLeod, Caroline Mulroney and Lisa Thompson all got booted from their portfolios and shuffled to other, more minor ones. And then Ford also grew his cabinet, creating one whole new stand-along ministry and five other associate ministries. For a government that’s telling everyone they fund to suck it up and find efficiencies, this bloating of his cabinet is surely a slap in the face.
Look at the specific shuffles though, a few really stand out. Seeing Vic Fideli getting removed as Finance Minister in a year is unprecedented in modern Canadian politics. Usually Finance is where you put one of your best and most trusted ministers. Fideli was known as a good finance critic when he served in that role and it was no secret that he wanted that ministry in government. So to remove him like this a year into the job is just a major slap at him. Most Finance Ministers aren’t removed, especially so early on. Normally they get to step aside on their own, because of the stature of the job. But looking back I can’t think of a single Finance Minister, Federally or Provincially, who experienced what Fideli just did in at least a century. That’s not a unique historical footnote I’d ever want to have.
Lisa Thompson getting removed from Education is a big move too, especially given how the Education file has been managed or mismanaged, depending on your perspective. Having a new face in there would normally be a good thing, but it can be argued that more so in this government than others, much of this is being run out of the Premiers office. So how much of this education chaos was of her creation and how much was created by the Premiers office? That’s an open question.
Lisa MacLeod falls into that same category too, although her abrasive response to families and loved ones of children with autism didn’t help her cause. But she was in charge of the autism file, and those cuts have been devastating. So in a normal circumstance, it wouldn’t be surprising to see her shuffled. But these aren’t normal times, so seeing her moved probably says more than it usually would.
I could go on and on about every piece of the shuffle, and there is a lot of that to look at, but I think the big thing about this shuffle all comes back to one common factor: Doug Ford. At the end of the day, did Fideli, Thompson, MacLeod or any other minister who got moved or demoted today do anything that the Premiers office didn’t want? The more that you look at this, it looks more and more like these ministers were following orders, doing what they were told and are the fall people now that the Premier is getting booed at victory parades and the Special Olympics. In the end, that has to make the mood in that cabinet and caucus all the more strained and pressure-packed because in the end, they could be the next ones being told to take the blame for the decisions of this Premier and his office. It seems very much like these ministers were being loyal foot soldiers right until the end, and then they are getting blamed for decisions they had no part in. They even did all of those silly selfies in convenience stores; if those weren’t a sign of loyalty and sacrifice, I don’t know what else is.
Normally a cabinet shuffle can help to change the course or improve a parties standing, but this shuffle seems destined to fail on that account. In the end, all roads lead to the Premiers office and that’s where the buck stops. Unless you see a change in that approach, all the cabinet shuffles in the World won’t change a thing. This shuffle might very well be as effective as the shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic, but in this case, there’s still three more years for those ministers to get off before this ship goes down.