McGarry, Vernile excited for cabinet roles but are they just 'seat savers?'

Two MPPs from Waterloo region were given new positions in Premier Kathleen Wynne's cabinet in a cabinet shuffle Wednesday. Queen's Park political analyst Robert Fisher says the move is meant to raise their profiles and hopefully win seats in this spring's provincial election.

New cabinet ministers 'hold seats the Liberals must hold hang on to in the next election'

Cambridge MPP and Minister of Transportation Kathryn McGarry, left, greets Premier Kathleen Wynne during a swearing-in ceremony following a cabinet shuffle at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Wednesday. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

MPPs Kathryn McGarry and Daeine Vernile have expressed they're excited to take on new roles in Premier Kathleen Wynne's cabinet, but their promotions are part of a larger re-election plan, says one political analyst.

"They hold seats the Liberals must hold — hang on to — in the next election," Queen's Park political analyst Robert Fisher told CBC K-W's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Thursday.

"This was a cabinet shuffle but in many ways it was a seat saver."

McGarry, the MPP for Cambridge, became the minister of transportation in a cabinet shuffle Wednesday, moving from her role as minister of natural resources and forestry.

Former backbencher Vernile was named to cabinet for the first time and becomes the minister of tourism, culture and sport.

Listen to the interview with Robert Fisher.

A cabinet shuffle five months before a provincial election is no unexpected, says Queen's Park political analyst Robert Fisher. 6:40

GO train 'hope' for Cambridge

McGarry said the change of ministry is a bit of a homecoming as she previously served as parliamentary assistant to the minister of transportation.

"I think that my position as minister of transportation will really benefit my own community but as well as the rest of Ontario," McGarry said.

She noted locally there are many projects on the go, including the Highway 401 expansion in Cambridge, the transportation hub in downtown Kitchener, more cycling infrastructure, better connectivity with the rural townships and the ongoing issue of two-way, all-day GO service.

On Thursday morning, Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig also reminded McGarry of his hopes for GO train service into his city.

He offered McGarry "sincere congratulations" in her new role and tweeted a photo of a model GO train with the word "hope" written above it.

In a statement to CBC News Thursday, McGarry said "I know how important GO service is for the people of Cambridge and our government will continue to look at ways to improve access to transit and transportation in communities across Ontario."

Fisher noted McGarry "has been handed a difficult portfolio."

"The file is large provincially, but very important for Ms. McGarry locally to ensure that she is re-elected in June," he said.

Listen: MPP Kathryn McGarry talks about her new role as the minister of transportation.

Cambridge MPP Kathryn McGarry has become Ontario's minister of transportation in a cabinet shuffle Wednesday. 5:09

Tourism ministry fun, but 'very important'

Vernile said she was surprised when she received the call from Wynne asking her to be in cabinet.

She admitted she gets the "fun" ministry, which means she gets to promote festivals, cycling routes, museums and art galleries. But there's also a very serious side to all that fun, she said.

"Underpinning all of this — all of these tourist and cultural and sport attractions — we know that we're pumping millions of dollars into our economy through this sector and that it employs thousands of people," Vernile said.

Kitchener Centre MPP and Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Daiene Vernile takes an oath during a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

It's fun to promote culture, she said, but "it's a very important sector that is good for our economy."

Having Vernile in the role means both the provincial and federal ministers of tourism are from Waterloo region. Waterloo MP Bardish Chagger is the minister of small business and tourism and she congratulated Vernile on the new role, saying she was looking forward to working together.

"The province recognizes we are an economic powerhouse here and that we are driving the knowledge economy," Vernile said of Waterloo region.

Listen: MPP Daiene Vernile talks about her new cabinet post.

Kitchener Centre MPP Daiene Vernile has been named to cabinet in a cabinet shuffle Wednesday. She is the new minister of tourism, culture and sport. 4:05

Liberals lose grip on southern Ontario

Three new spots were opened up in cabinet after MPPs, including Guelph MPP and former Treasury Board president Liz Sandals, announced they would not be run in the June 7 election.

But some critics argue the new roles don't mean much with a provincial election just five months away.

The new cabinet appointments are strategic for Premier Kathleen Wynne, says Robert Fisher. The movies may keep Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath from winning those seats. (Canadian Press)

"If you're going to shuffle a cabinet, it makes sense to open up some spaces for new people," Fisher said, noting the move is not an unusual one, even so close to an election.

He said polls show Wynne and the Liberals are not out of the race, although they continue to trail the Progressive Conservatives and their leader, Patrick Brown.

"[The area codes] 416 and 905 really are the areas that will hold the keys to whoever, if you will, get the chance to put new drapes in the premier's office," he said.

The 519 area code, or southwestern Ontario, was once a Liberal stronghold.

"That no longer is the fact," Fisher said, meaning Wynne will be looking for ways to win over those voters between now and June.

He also said it was interesting to see all the new ministers seemed to be on the same page, using the words "fairness and opportunity" in interviews.

Those are "two words I can assure you we're going to hear a lot of between now and that June election," he said.


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