LILLEY: Ford’s cabinet chooses all about balancing competing interests

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Doug Ford let his ministers sweat on a hot, steamy Thursday in Toronto — without letting them know if they were back in the fold or out. While members of Ford’s progressive conservative caucus were being sworn in as MPPs for the province’s 43rd Parliament later in the day, calls were still being made to cabinet ministers.

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Who’s in and who’s out is something the government is trying to keep a secret, despite much speculation.

“Geography, gender, ethnicity and ability, this is how a cabinet is chosen,” said a senior party official.

It is a direct assessment of the political process, but it is not wrong. Regardless of the party, cabinet decisions are made after considering a multitude of factors that do not always put the skill set or competence at the forefront.

And sometimes, the competence to handle a particular portfolio can be passed over because the person presented lacks other skills, such as the ability to communicate and convey the government’s message. If someone is being considered for reforming a particular department but cannot explain what the government is trying to do, the whole project could fail.

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The expectation is that Ford won’t change as many portfolios in his cabinet, but he can expand it, as he tries to give some ministers with two portfolios some breathing room and tries to give new faces a seat at the table.

Much of the cabinet’s initial speculation focused on who will replace Christine Elliott as health minister. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Ford said he consulted with Elliott on who could best play that role.

The consensus in this speculative world is that Syvia Jones will take on the role. Jones was first elected in 2011 to pilot Dufferin-Caledon, and despite holding a number of critical positions for PCs in opposition, he wasn’t the cabinet’s favorite pick in 2018, but is now a Ford favorite.

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“Jones has earned his respect,” said a longtime confidant of the prime minister.

When Ford was elected prime minister, he didn’t really know Jones, who barely reached the post of minister. She was appointed Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport in June 2018, but moved to the position of Attorney General in November of the same year because he impressed her.

“She was the school girl with the binders, the bookmarks and her homework done,” said a source, describing how prepared Jones was and how seriously she took each of her roles. It’s a trait that endeared her to the prime minister.

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Other major ministries such as education and finance are expected to remain the same. Peter Bethlenfalvy is seen as having a steady hand in finance and Stephen Lecce will likely remain in education to take on the difficult contract negotiations with the teachers unions.

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There has been much speculation that Ross Romano will be fired from the cabinet in favor of a newcomer, but also from the north, such as George Pirie. Pirie was the mayor of Timmins and defeated former NDP MPP Giles Bisson.

The last time the PCs occupied any part of this territory was in 1990.

There is also much speculation that longtime MPP and Cabinet Minister Lisa McLeod will be passed over. A source said his staff have been instructed to look for other jobs outside of Queen’s Park and that they will not be part of the government.

McLeod caused problems for the Ford administration during the pandemic in his dealings with the hospitality and tourism sectors and with stories about spending during the campaign.

The Cabinet Induction Ceremony will take place at 11:15 am on Friday in front of the Legislative Building in Queen’s Park.

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