McGuinty turns to veterans for top cabinet jobs

Duncan pegged for finance portfolio after Sorbara's surprise decision to sit as backbencher so he can have more family time

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty will have a new right-hand man today when Dwight Duncan is sworn in as finance minister in the recently re-elected Liberal government's new cabinet.

The 48-year-old Windsor native had been widely expected to get the nod for the coveted job after Greg Sorbara's surprise announcement last Friday that he wants to relinquish his role in finance and sit as a backbencher. Mr. Duncan was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1995 and served as energy minister during the Liberals' first term. But he was seen as the safe choice for finance because he also has a proven track record in that portfolio.

Mr. McGuinty had initially planned to make only minor changes to his cabinet after the Liberals' recent election victory. But Mr. Sorbara's decision set off a domino effect.

Veteran Liberal MPP Gerry Phillips will step into Mr. Duncan's old shoes as energy minister. He will oversee the building of new nuclear plants and prepare to close the province's four remaining coal-fired plants by 2014. A government official said last night that Mr. McGuinty believes Mr. Phillips has the right skills for the demanding portfolio.

"There is no doubt he is thoughtful and beyond reproach," the official said.

However, two senior cabinet ministers - Health Minister George Smitherman, 43, and Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, 54,- will remain in their posts.

Attorney-General Michael Bryant will become Ontario's first stand-alone minister of aboriginal affairs, a government source said last night. He said giving the portfolio to a senior minister signals that the Premier intends to move native issues off the back burner.

"It's a tough file," the source said. "We need somebody who is going to take the bull by the horns."

Mr. Bryant, 41, is well qualified for the new post. His master's thesis at Harvard University was on aboriginal affairs. Until now, cabinet minister David Ramsay has worn two hats as both Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Natural Resources. Native leaders had pressed for the separate ministry to deal with the growing list of issues facing their communities, including the protracted Caledonia land dispute.

Mr. Bryant will also be named Liberal House leader.

Chris Bentley, a 51-year-old lawyer from London, Ont., and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, will be named attorney-general.

John Gerretsen, 65, will move to environment from Municipal Affairs, while the current Environment Minister, Laurel Broten, 39, will become the parliamentary assistant to Mr. Smitherman.

A government source said Mr. McGuinty was impressed by the way Mr. Gerretsen handled the implementation of the 1.8-million-acre Greenbelt in the past few years, a view that was underlined last night by some environmentalists.

Another source said Ms. Broten is happy with her demotion because she was finding it onerous to run the Environment Ministry while rearing her twin two-year-old sons. She said she was apprehensive about seeing little of her children in the next four years.

"She is, frankly, relieved that she is going to actually have a small amount of normalcy in her life when her boys are at such a critical age," the source said.

Former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson is expected to be raised from Health Promotion Minister to the Municipal Affairs and Housing portfolio, The Canadian Press reported last night. Mr. McGuinty indicated to reporters yesterday that he is disappointed that Mr. Sorbara wants to sit as a backbencher so he too can spend more time with his family. Until last Friday, he said, he had been planning to reappoint him as finance minister.

"He was so strong in terms of the energy and the passion that he brought to all of our discussions, to the leadership he brought to the party and to the contribution he made to the caucus and the cabinet as a whole," Mr. McGuinty said.

Mr. Sorbara, who is widely credited with the Liberals' back-to-back election wins, will continue to be involved in government, Mr. McGuinty said.

The new cabinet ministers will be sworn in this afternoon in Lieutenant-Governor David Onley's suite at Queen's Park.


Sorbara's decision

Oct. 11: Greg Sorbara's exit from the Ontario cabinet began with the realization that he didn't want to spend another four years as Finance Minister. As campaign chair for the Liberal Party, he had been preoccupied for the previous six months with winning a second majority for Premier Dalton McGuinty in the Oct. 10 election, with few thoughts about how things would unfold after that.

Oct. 12: Two days after that mission was accomplished, Mr. Sorbara's sister-in-law succumbed to cancer, precipitating a chain of insights that changed his life. The death of Rose Ann Kulmala in Lindsay on Oct. 12 prompted the usual thoughts about mortality. As Mr. Sorbara said last week, "There just comes a time when one hears the clock ticking a little bit." The funeral six days later deepened those thoughts.

Oct. 18: Almost all of the Sorbaras' six children and 10 grandchildren attended the service at Trinity United Church in Bobcaygeon. It was one of the biggest gatherings of family since they had all gone to Italy early in 2006, when Mr. Sorbara was temporarily out of cabinet. It drove home to him the frustration that his busy schedule had allowed him to get only "snippets" of their time since then.

Oct. 22: Mr. Sorbara called Mr. McGuinty's chief of staff, Peter Wilkinson, to let him know of his doubts about serving for a full four-year mandate. Mr. McGuinty, not certain that his colleague had made up his mind, kept his name on the list of prospective cabinet ministers in the "Finance" slot. The Premier's staff were not certain whether Mr. Sorbara was serious about getting out.

Last week, the minister and his wife, Kate, talked about his future on a daily basis. He considered whether he could continue in the portfolio for a year to 18 months to give the government some continuity. But he also worried that it would be unfair to force a shuffle. Ms. Sorbara was concerned that her husband would get sucked into the job and would never find the right time to quit.

Oct. 25: Finally, last Thursday night, the minister delivered his decision to the Premier that he wanted out.

Oct. 28: On Sunday, as he gathered with his family to press apples in the contraption he had bought 25 years ago, he knew he had made the right call.

"You really don't know for sure when it's this kind of decision whether it's the right decision until after you've made it," he said yesterday. "Having made it, both Kate and I felt like it was the right thing to do."

Murray Campbell







Our commentary in the Globe and Mail

October 30, 2007



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