As the Legislature wound down, Kathleen Wynne shuffled her cabinet. In the new executive, 40% of all ministers are now women, and the cabinet itself is larger and younger. How will these developments influence Ontario-federal relations? We asked Richard Mahoney, John Capobianco and Tom Parkin for their views.
Premier Kathleen Wynne's recent Cabinet shuffle has put in place a strong team that she trusts to implement her four-part plan over the next two years. The new cabinet is a blend of continuity, experience, new ideas and energy. She deftly moved some veterans on and brought in seven new faces to help her deliver on her ambitious agenda. Several ministers are remaining in place to continue the great work they are doing and a number of seasoned ministers are applying their experience to new roles.
That four part plan invests historic amounts in Ontario's infrastructure, makes college and university more affordable and accessible, takes a leading role in the fight against climate change and the transition to a low-carbon economy, and, through the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), builds retirement security for Ontario workers.
All of these elements are part of a wider agenda to grow the economy. Interestingly, they all need a federal partner. Investments in transit and other infrastructure rely greatly on a federal funding partner.
Fortunately, Justin Trudeau received a mandate on an ambitious agenda to invest in infrastructure. Climate change and the conversion to a carbon economy require a coordinated national and international approach. And the main reason why Kathleen Wynne brought the ORPP in was because the economy today leaves way too many Ontarians without adequate retirement income and the former Conservative government refused to act.
All these issues require detailed cooperation between the governments.
While much has been made of the political alignment of the two, it will now start to get interesting as the governments get down to the detailed work where federal and provincial perspectives and approaches will not always align. Such is the nature of federal-provincial relations.
Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet shuffle comes as the Legislature rises for the summer break. Doing it now will allow new ministers several months to get to know their ministries before having to be accountable for them in the legislature.
Wynne’s new cabinet of 30 members is larger than the cabinet of the government of Canada and – I believe – is the largest in Canada. The first cabinet of Rachel Notely (which was gender balanced, by the way) was just 12. When I worked in Regina for the Romanow government, his “war cabinet” was also 12.
These small cabinets struggled with challenges inherited from their boondoggle conservative predecessors. With their small groups they meet the challengers with a team to take them on.
From my experience, cabinets get big because Premiers want to give status in exchange for loyalty and so they can hire lots of political staff that can help in by-elections and riding development.
A large cabinet cannot be managed by a Premier and therefore becomes managed by Premier’s office staff. It is the opposite of ministerial accountability.
Ms. Wynne’s government is poorly run and, whether it is Transportation or Energy, has become used to political meddling. These are both ministries that need a professional civil service of qualified people planning for our province’s future. But in each case this government has politicized decision-making and overrun good administration.
The result has been constantly increasing electricity rates in an opaquely regulated sector. And delays and waste in transit – the Union-Pearson link being only the latest installment. We now have a provincial corporation – Metrolinx – that seems to think it is the Mayor, Council and Transit Commission of Toronto all rolled into one. If it was competent it might be bearable.
Ms. Wynne’s fundraising strategies – which often lean on energy and infrastructure construction businesses – are perhaps the missing explanation of how this system of opacity and meddling works. Her pay-for-access events may have put her in the forefront in fundraising, but they have put her in very low standing with voters. She stands at less than 20 per cent approval.
We are now two years to the next election. Andrea Horwath should be a competitor for Premier. Unfortunately, with the federal NDP at a low ebb she is being pulled down. But if Andrea can shape a team and a plan to set things right side up – and if there is some federal rebound – she can be very competitive in a year or so. We will have to wait and watch.
Nothing like a midterm cabinet shuffle to shake things up or to re-calibrate as a government heads into the second half of the term and what is general called "election-mode."
In the case of Premier Wynne, this was the Premier’s first time since winning the 2014 election and she did it with gusto. This shuffle creates the second-largest cabinet in Ontario’s history with 30 members. That speaks volumes.
For one thing, the fact that the government is heading into election-mode means that the Premier needs to be very sensitive not to kick out long-time ministers who may very well use the opportunity to leave the caucus and retire, as some have already done leading up to the announcement. This is why I believe as many as 13 cabinet ministers retained their portfolios and seven new faces were added with another nine changing portfolios.
The Premier does not want to have a mass exodus from her caucus since the perception of a sinking ship will not help – remember the news stories after many cabinet ministers starting leaving Stephen Harper’s caucus prior to the federal election?
I also applaud the Premier for her attempts to make her cabinet gender balanced, but the fact that the Premier fell short is also not a particularly good sign, especially since there are women in caucus to choose from. As Nickel Belt NDP MPP France Gelinas said in a CBC news story, she was disappointment that several strong females from the backbenches did not get promoted to cabinet.
Not reaching gender parity for the Premier does indicate the challenge with quotas, which has always been the need to have quantity over quality. In this case the Premier rightly chose the latter.
Tom's point about how size matters is interesting. I would point out that Saskatchewan and Alberta both have populations that are a small fraction of Ontario's.
Interestingly, neither Tom nor John chose to address ONW's question: what does this mean for Ontario-federal relations?
The Premier is presiding over the largest investment in Ontario's history in transit and infrastructure - a $130 billion investment in our future. Most of the benefit to this is down the road, so to speak but, to name a few: expansion of light rail in Ottawa, Mississauga, Toronto (Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown), Mississauga light rail and the creation of a new, electrified version of GO running every 15 minutes - all are huge game-changers for the people who live in those communities. As this goes forward, the province will have long and hard negotiations to bring the feds to the table on as many of these as are economically possible.
Climate change is not only the biggest issue facing us, but somehow, the federal and provincial governments will have to align, even though the feds face a situation where a patchwork of carbon taxes, cap and trade and other measures exist in various provinces.
And federal efforts to enhance CPP are laudable but may not align with the ambitious and complete coverage that ORPP will mean for Ontario residents. Other provinces aren't yet ready to match Ontario's plan.
I predict we are in for some tough slugging in the years ahead, and a few disagreements. The good news is that at least the governments are talking again, and, in general, share the same broad goals: grow the economy for the middle class, key investments in things that help people get to work and access the education and training they need and save what they need to live adequately after their working years are over.
All that and trying to deal with climate change. These are tall orders and the agendas are breathtakingly ambitious. But at least the ambitions are there.
In terms of federal-provincial relations in Ontario, we can expect that they will continue to be very politically close.
The federal government is sending signals it is preparing to sell-off “mature” infrastructure to fund new infrastructure. This is an echo of Ms. Wynne’s privatization of our electricity grid to raise money for transit. Of course we’ve seen this movie before and what it means is increased costs for services.
Ms. Wynne is pursuing her misguided Hydro One privatization against almost all wisdom including that of the Financial Accountability Office. The FAO showed that because Hydro One will no longer pay a dividend to the consolidated revenue fund of Ontario this short-term injection of cash from stock sales will turn into a deeper structural deficit for Ontario.
Ms. Wynne and Mr. Trudeau seem to be creating more confusion than clarity on the pension front. Ms. Wynne once said an Ontario plan wouldn’t be necessary because Mr. Trudeau had committed to fixing CPP benefit levels. But now she says it is needed, though she has pushed back the launch date by a year. What exactly is going on between Ottawa and Queen’s Park is far from clear. So far the result has been nothing. Hopefully we will start to see something concrete.
On climate change, Mr. Trudeau has done nothing except ride the coattails of some Premiers, which seems to be the policy. Ontario has now passed legislation to join the Western Climate Initiative carbon trading system in 2017. And the Premier is talking about a regulatory strategy as well. The elements of this strategy are not clear to me because of the multiple and contradictory media leaks about it. Perhaps confusion was the intention – “the government is doing something.”
Again, for Horwath and the NDP, it is critical that they sharpen their policy points and come up with better solutions than those provided by Ms. Wynne. My sense is that voters are looking for competence in public service: a professional public service, not one constantly focused on the political management of stakeholders. Not one in which political meddling sets the tone. Andrea has to think this through hard. Trinket policies won’t be enough. I am looking forward to those important discussions.
Richard pointed out that neither Tom nor I specifically addressed the question asked by ONW, which isn’t totally accurate. I focused firstly on the shuffle and the political meaning or implications of the shuffle since that will have a huge effect on federal-provincial relationships. Richard correctly states that the feds and the province don’t always align and if that is the situation, it will be very difficult for the Premier to achieve what she has set out to do with this shuffle, which is implementation.
This next phase of Premier Wynne’s government, which will be led by this new and robust cabinet, will be critical for any chance of re-election. The Liberals will be heading into their 13th year in office this fall and by election time in 2018 it will be 15 years in office. That is significant since the shelf life of most governments is 8-10 years, with few exceptions.
So this cabinet will need to perform and carry out the key areas of focus, which Richard has addressed in his submission above. This next phase is where the proverbial rubber hits the road.
As for policies, the economy, electricity, climate change/environment and pensions will be critical to the success, or not, of Premier Wynne when the election comes around. The federal government will need to be in sync with the Premier in all of these major issues, with the exception of electricity costs, which is clearly the Premier’s biggest albatross, and it is hers alone.
On the issue of pensions, there have been so many moves I am not sure where we are or if we are waiting for the PM to decide how the CPP will be expanded - or not. The Premier has announced her plans and we will see if the feds change the course of where she would like to go.
We can talk about cap and trade vs. what the PM wants to do with climate change, but what will be on everyone's minds come the election will be the economy.
This is where the PM and Premier Wynne will absolutely need to be in collaboration, especially since the Premier has guaranteed a balanced budget by the time of the election. The economy and how Ontarians feel about their economic security will determine whether the Liberals get a sixth consecutive term.
Richard Mahoney is a lawyer with deep experience in politics and governance. He is a former senior advisor to the Rt. Hon Paul Martin, a former Campaign Chair and President of the Ontario Liberal Party. John Capobianco is a Senior Partner and National Public Affairs Lead at FleishmanHillard. He has been a Conservative strategist with over 30 years of political activism at all three levels, including as a former federal Conservative candidate. Tom Parkin is a veteran NDP strategist and a frequent commentator on national issues.