We are a year out from the next provincial election in Ontario and the parties are all starting to look ahead to that campaign. Everything is starting to look through that lens and planning is afoot. We’re seeing candidate nomination announcements taking place all over. Fundraising is happening with some interesting results that has some good news for the Official Opposition NDP. And we saw the whole scandalous acts of earlier this week with the Ford Conservatives using the Notwithstanding Clause to try to silence those who will oppose him. And we’re even seeing campaign ads coming out, like this first one from Ontario’s NDP:

Given where things stand in the polls and the effect of COVID on the mood of the electorate, this next year is going to be a very rough one for the Ford Conservatives to try to bounce back. But with all the other tactics that the Blue team is pulling out, today they pulled out one of the oldest, most tried and true ways to try to prop up a flagging government; a cabinet shuffle!

Well folks, this is as unsurprising as it is relatively uninspiring. There had been rumours floating around that Rod Philipps would be back in cabinet sometime soon after his St. Barts banishment, so to see him re-emerge isn’t a shock. But to see him come back now, less than six months later, and making him the new Long-term Care Minister is pretty shocking. Given the disaster that ministry has been during this pandemic, how does Philipps of all people get tapped to take it on? The guy who ignored COVID rules for a beach vacation? That just looks bad.

But what looks worse is where Minister Merrilee Fullerton landed, as she failed upward landing as the new Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. Geeze folks, that’s only one of the largest ministries in the entire government of Ontario, so that sounds more like a promotion than a demotion for her bad work in her previous role. What makes this all the more interesting is that this ministry had its own scandals going before COVID, when it came to cuts to autism services for kids. You know, the parents who have organized to shame this government and will now be silenced by Ford’s Notwithstanding BS. This is all eerily coming full circle.

Beyond that, this shuffle really feels more like the proverbial shuffling of the deck chairs on a sinking ship than anything else. Moving out senior ministers in safe seats that aren’t at risk, shuffling in new ministers in ridings at risk to try to save them. Give the cabinet a new look ahead of the campaign, trying to make it shine brighter than it has for a while. That’s old school tactics as it gets.

But will it make any difference in the grand scheme of things for the Ford team? Not likely, and I think that even they think that. They made the announcement on a Friday afternoon, not exactly at the prime time to spin this for all it’s worth. It was done in a way to get it done, nothing more than that. This move may be an old one, but it’s not one with a solid track record of success or failure. Historically it has cut either way, but rarely has reversed course for a deeply unpopular government.

In the few occasions that it has brought that big return for a government, it involved bringing in big talent or bigger names. Does this shuffle do that? Not at all. There is only a little new blood coming in, none of it well known to the province, and the only big names either coming in or moving around the cabinet are infamous for their work in this legislature, not overly well thought of. When you put it like that, it’s easy to see why they did it on a Friday afternoon. We’ll see what comes from this but what this shuffle does is further set the field for the election that will come next year. The pieces are slowly being put into place and soon enough, the campaign will get into fuller swing.