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Ontario Premier Doug Ford's Tory cabinet criticized for lack of diversity

Incoming Ontario Premier Doug Ford sits with members of his cabinet prior to being sworn in during a ceremony at Queen's Park in Toronto on Friday, June 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government had barely been in power for an hour Friday before it was under attack about the perceived lack of diversity in its cabinet.

Shortly before officially taking the reigns of the province, Doug Ford announced the 20 ministers tasked with helping him shepherd the new government’s agenda of fiscal restraint.

But while the cabinet drew praise for enlisting members with considerable public and private sector experience, critics also noted the fact that only seven women and one visible minority currently have a seat on the front benches.

Two out of three opposition parties said the makeup of the cabinet does not reflect the diversity of either the Tory caucus or the province as a whole.

Political observers also noted the lack of diversity, but said the current cabinet composition makes an effort to balance different sets of interests including regional representation and willingness to commit to the promised agenda.

The Progressive Conservative party did not respond to a request for comment.

Critiques of the new Tory cabinet, which features plum portfolios for Ford’s past political rivals as well as veterans of provincial and federal politics, began pouring in almost immediately after Ford delivered a speech to cheering supporters gathered outside of the legislature.

Newly elected New Democrat Sarah Singh, whose party now forms the official Opposition in the legislature, said the image of the predominantly male, white cabinet sends a disheartening message for those hoping to feel supported by the Ford administration.

“For me as a young woman of colour, and I’m sure for many others across this province, they’re not seeing themselves reflected in the decisions that were made today,” Singh said after extending her congratulations to the newly minted ministers.

Singh also criticized Ford’s decision to assign the Indigenous affairs portfolio to a minister who’s already overseeing the major files of energy and northern affairs.

That move, Singh said, suggests reconciliation with Indigenous residents will be a lower priority than it has been under past regimes.

Similar concerns emerged from the camp of the Green party, whose leader Mike Schreiner made history in the June 7 election by being the first person elected to the house under his party’s banner.

Schreiner issued a statement lauding the depth of talent in the cabinet ranks, but lamenting that diversity seemed only confined to the skill sets on display.

He noted that having only one member of a visible minority, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho, does not adequately represent four million Ontarians who identify as belonging to a minority group.

Schreiner also took aim at the comparative lack of women in the upper echelon of the new government, though Ford’s two primary leadership rivals – Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney – were assigned the prestigious titles of health minister and attorney general respectively.

“All governments should strive for gender parity, so it is unfortunate that just seven of the 21 ministers named today are women,” he said. “This is made more troubling by the fact that you have reduced the Ministry of the Status of Women to a non-portfolio responsibility and unnecessarily changed the name to ‘women’s issues.”’

Social media teemed with criticisms of the new cabinet, with hashtags such as #OnGovtSoWhite decrying the lack of racial diversity gaining the most prominence.

Political observers said Ford’s choices for high office send a message about where his governing priorities lie.

Andrea Lawlor, a political science professor at Western University’s King’s University College, said the relatively homogeneous cabinet was formed from the ranks of a caucus rife with candidates from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.