There has been a fair amount of turmoil in the Ontario Ford government the last few weeks, and certainly the last 48 hours, with the resignation of two additional Cabinet Ministers – one related to the Greenbelt scandal, and the other leaving politics (for now) to take a position in the private sector. So far, the resignations have included:
- Steve Clark, the former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, who resigned earlier this month;
- Kaleed Rasheed, the former Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery, who resigned on September 21;
- Monte McNaughton, the former Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, who announced he is stepping down today.
Political staff that have resigned also include Ryan Amato, the Chief of Staff to Minister Clark, and Jae Truesdell, the Housing Policy Advisor to the Premier.
With the exception of the McNaughton resignation, all of these resignations are related to the land swap scandal involving a protected area called the Greenbelt, which surrounds the Greater Toronto Area. The most recent departures were triggered by the revelations of an independent media outlet (the Trillium) that a Minister and two senior political staffers were in Las Vegas with a Greenbelt developer in 2020 getting massages. As for McNaughton, a star Cabinet minister that built deep relationships with private sector unions (that had previously backed the Liberals), the decision to step down has little to do with the Greenbelt. After twelve years in politics, McNaughton is taking a private sector opportunity, but it should be noted that he is a likely leadership candidate, whenever the Premier decides to retire from politics.
These resignations come on the tail end of a caucus and Cabinet retreat in Niagara, where insiders have confided that the turmoil and morale within caucus ranks – and senior staff – is at an all-time low. With polling numbers tanking, opposition parties calling for even more blood, and the potential bleeding requiring even more political sacrifices, the Premier announced a stunning reversal of policy this week. At a press conference in Niagara on September 21, the Premier – flanked by Ministers and caucus members – took responsibility for the Greenbelt decision, apologized to Ontarians (a rare occurrence in provincial politics), and announced that all the lands that were taken out of the Greenbelt will revert back to Greenbelt protected status.
This dramatic reversal of policy is akin to the cancellation of the Oakville Gas Plant by the Liberals many years ago, which boosted the Party’s fortunes in an election, but cost taxpayers $1.6 billion. The Ford government’s Greenbelt policy decision, and reversal, has the potential to make the Liberal gas plant scandal seem small.
The NDP under new leader Marit Stiles has been an outspoken critic on the Greenbelt saga, and has announced that she and her party will introduce legislation that will strengthen protections for the Greenbelt when the Legislature resumes.
The Liberals, under Interim Leader John Fraser, have been equally vocal in their outrage and calling for more heads to roll. Meanwhile, the party is in the midst of a leadership contest with five candidates that will conclude later this year (December 2). With Conservative support faltering these candidates might think the next Liberal leader could be the next Premier.
The developments of this week have triggered the second Cabinet shuffle in less than a month, with the following changes announced this afternoon:
- David Piccini, the current Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, becomes Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. Like MacNaughton who he is replacing, Piccini comes from a rural riding and is one of the “new generation” of young Conservative caucus members;
- Andrea Khanjin becomes Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, having previously served as the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister during the first Ford government mandate. She is also a part of the “new generation” that the party needs, if it is to remain successful;
- Todd McCarthy, MPP for Durham who was appointed two weeks ago as Associate Minister of Transportation, becomes Minister of Public and Business Service Delivery. McCarthy has been a long-time Conservative and was a former law partner of the late-Jim Flaherty, former federal Finance Minister and Ontario Cabinet Minister;
- Vijay Thanigasalam, the MPP for Scarborough Rouge Park (and the youngest member of the Legislature) becomes Associate Minister of Transportation.
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