What Kathleen Wynne is aiming for with new cabinet

By appointing the second-largest cabinet in Ontario history, Premier Kathleen Wynne is aiming to add some heft to the Liberal team that will fight the 2018 election.

Liberal shuffle creates the second-largest cabinet in Ontario history, with 30 members

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (centre left) and Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell (centre right) pose for a photo with the new cabinet after it was announced formally announced at Queen's Park in Toronto on Monday, June 13, 2016. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

In Ontario's history, there's only been one cabinet larger than the one Premier Kathleen Wynne appointed on Monday. And that one didn't end well. 

During his short-lived premiership in 1985, Progressive Conservative Frank Miller squeezed 33 MPPs around the cabinet table. A few months later, the Tories were turfed from power for the first time in 40 years. 

Wynne is obviously not appointing a 30-member cabinet with the intention of repeating Miller's fate. But some of her aims may be the same as Miller's were three decades ago: keep as many MPPs as possible happy and boost their profile in their ridings, heading toward an election campaign.

In the June 2018 election, this cabinet will be the heart of Wynne's team. In naming her ministers, the premier weighed multiple factors including gender (with 40 per cent women, it's the most gender-balanced Ontario cabinet ever) and regional representation.

The factor Wynne is less willing to speak about is the re-election factor. Incumbent ministers usually don't lose their seats. So appointing a backbencher to cabinet significantly increases their re-election prospects.

Kathryn McGarry was sworn in as minister of natural resources and forestry on June 13, 2016. She's one of six new ministers representing a swing riding. (CBC)

Crucially, six of the seven new faces in Wynne's cabinet represent swing ridings, seats the Liberals will desperately want to hold in 2018 to have any hope of retaining their majority. Four of the new ministers represent ridings the Liberals plucked from the Tories in 2014: Burlington, Halton, Cambridge and Newmarket-Aurora. Those victories were key to Wynne's majority, and the cabinet appointments could make them far safer for the Liberals in 2018.   

New faces in Kathleen Wynne's cabinet. All but one of them (Lalonde) represents a swing riding.   

  • Laura Albanese: Minister of Citizenship and Immigration.
  • Christopher Ballard: Minister of Housing Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy
  • Marie-France Lalonde: Minister of Government and Consumer Services, Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs.
  • Kathryn McGarry: Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
  • Eleanor McMahon: Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport.
  • Indira Naidoo-Harris: Associate Minister of Finance (Ontario Retirement Pension Plan).
  • Glenn Thibeault: Minister of Energy

How much does looking ahead to the next election play into who Wynne appointed to cabinet? When I asked her Monday, she chuckled and replied, "Oh, there's so many things that play into it." 

In a news conference Monday at Queen's Park, Wynne said choosing new MPPs to become ministers sends "an important signal in terms of having new eyes and fresh energy on those files." 

She insists her main motivation for appointing a larger cabinet is simply getting the jobs done.  

"What this cabinet indicates is that we've got some very, very important items on our plan that need focus and need the energy of a strong ministry," Wynne said.

She was referring to the new cabinet posts she created, hived off from larger ministries. There's now a stand-alone Minister for International Trade (Michael Chan), a Minister for Housing (Chris Ballard), and a Minister for Infrastructure (Bob Chiarelli). Those are the new posts that pushed the cabinet to 30 members.  

Ontario's political history books contain another warning for Wynne that appointing a really big cabinet isn't necessarily a path to victory. The last premier with a cabinet of 30 was also a Liberal with a majority. David Peterson went on to get dumped by the voters in the next election. 

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.