Kathleen Wynne shuffles cabinet to replace veterans before election

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is trying to raise the profile of three backbenchers by promoting them to cabinet less than four months before the election campaign begins.

Shuffle is prompted by 3 of Wynne's cabinet ministers announcing they won't seek re-election in June

Premier Kathleen Wynne is shuffling several senior portfolios in her cabinet. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is trying to raise the profile of three backbenchers by promoting them to cabinet less than four months before the election campaign begins.

The shuffle is prompted by three of Wynne's veteran cabinet ministers announcing they will not seek re-election in June. Members of the existing cabinet will step in to take their positions. 

"I want to make sure that we have that team that's going to carry us into the election and beyond," Wynne said Wednesday after making an unrelated announcement in Barrie, Ont.

"The people who are no longer going to be in cabinet are people who have served this province very, very well."

Advanced Education Minister Deb Matthews is being replaced by Mitzie Hunter, who previously served as minister of education. Indira Naidoo-Harris, the former associate minister of education responsible for early years and childcare, will take over as education minister. 

Treasury Board President Liz Sandals is being replaced by Eleanor McMahon. McMahon is the former minister of tourism, culture and sport. 

Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid is being replaced by Steven Del Duca, who previously served as minister of transportation. Kathryn McGarry will take over Del Duca's post. 

Close to gender parity

Many of the ministers involved in the shuffle represent ridings — largely in the key Greater Toronto Area battleground  that may see closely fought races in the election.

As well, the new cabinet is close to gender parity, with 13 women and 16 men.

"I think it is important to have diversity — gender and regional and background diversity — at the cabinet table and so that has been part of the consideration as we go into this cabinet shuffle," Wynne said.

"It has been wonderful to have the people who have served for the last number of years, but the reality is there's new experience and there's a new perspective that can come to the table."

Backbenchers take smaller ministries

Meanwhile, the three backbenchers being promoted are taking on smaller ministries.

Ottawa-Vanier MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers becomes Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. She is a former dean of law at the University of Ottawa and former executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who won a byelection in late 2016. 

Brampton-Springdale MPP Harinder Malhi becomes the new Minister Responsible for the Status of Women. She was a trustee at the Peel District School board before getting elected in 2014. 

Kitchener-Centre MPP Daiene Vernile, a former TV journalist also first elected in 2014, is the new Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister. 

Rearranging chairs on a 'sinking ship,' says PC party

The Progressive Conservatives likened the shuffle to rearranging chairs on a "sinking ship" and the NDP said the reason for the shuffle was to give Liberals at risk of losing their seats a title to pad their resume before the election.

Wynne last shuffled her cabinet in July, with a few moves to replace Glen Murray, who left as environment minister to become executive director of the Pembina Institute.

At that time, Chris Ballard became environment minister and Peter Milczyn was promoted to take over Ballard's former post as housing minister.

Wynne has previously downplayed the effect of several senior cabinet members not running again, saying people sacrifice a lot to enter politics.

Speaker Dave Levac, the Liberal representative for Brant, and Monte Kwinter, Ontario's oldest MPP, have also announced they won't seek re-election.

With files from The Canadian Press