Premier Doug Ford has shuffled his Cabinet, removing Merrilee Fullerton as Minister of Long-Term Care. The move comes after the deaths of almost 4,000 long-term care residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She will be replaced by Rod Phillips, who was forced to resign his cabinet post as Finance Minister last December following a much-maligned trip to St. Barts.
Fullerton now becomes Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
At the time, Ford released a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed” with Phillips decision to travel, ordering him to cut his trip short and return home.
Phillips later resigned as Finance Minister, apologizing for what he called “a significant error in judgment.”
Ford said the resignation showed his government “takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Fullerton, along with several other senior government officials, came under fire for the way the province handled the COVID-19 outbreak in long-term care settings in reports tabled by Ontario’s auditor general and an independent commission.
“Unfortunately, neither the Ministry of Long-Term Care, nor the long-term-care sector was sufficiently positioned, prepared or equipped to respond to the issues created by the pandemic in an effective and expedient way,” Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk concluded.
In an ill-timed comment, Fullerton compared the situation last spring to firefighters rushing to a raging fire, saying “I didn’t start the fire.”
One high-profile cabinet minister who is keeping their job is Stephen Lecce, who will remain Minister of Education. As well, all the major players during the pandemic, with the exception of Fullerton, are keeping their existing posts, including Health Minister Christine Elliott, and Labour Minister Monte McNaughton.
The union representing elementary teachers criticized the decision to keep Lecce in his post.
“By keeping Minister Lecce in his role as minister of education, a minister who has not engaged with educators and their unions in a meaningful way since March 2020, Premier Ford has once again proven his disregard for public education,” said Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond.
Out of cabinet is Jeff Yurek, Minister of Energy, John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Laurie Scott, Minister of Infrastructure, and Ernie Hardeman, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
New faces in cabinet are Kinga Surma who will take the post of Minister of Infrastructure, David Piccini is in as Environment Minister and Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, MPP for Brampton South, becomes President of the Treasury Board.
Lisa MacLeod remains as Minister of Tourism. Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, assumes a merged role as Minister of Northern Development, Mining, Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as Indigenous Affairs.
Peter Bethlenfalvy, MPP for Pickering-Uxbridge and Minister of Finance, will assume responsibility for Ontario’s digital government strategy within the Ministry of Finance.
The Opposition NDP raised concern about Phillips’ new role, saying families affected by the pandemic’s toll on long-term care are looking for accountability. Deputy Leader Sara Singh said Phillips’ vacation scandal suggests he is not the right fit.
“I think it doesn’t restore faith for families who are looking to ensure that our long-term care system is going to be improved,” Singh said, who also criticized Fullerton’s new role.
“We saw nearly 4,000 seniors and staff lose their lives under her leadership,” she said. “I’m very worried for families of children with autism, families with children in care. Are they going to get the support that they need?”
The provincial Liberals highlighted the retention of ministers who were key players in the government’s pandemic response, particularly in education and health.
“By leaving Christine Elliott and Stephen Lecce in place, Ford is rewarding the two people that share responsibility with him for one of the most incompetent responses to COVID-19 in the western world,” Liberal Stephen Blais said.
The shuffle comes less than a year before the next scheduled provincial election in June 2022.
Following is a list of changes in the Ford cabinet shuffle:
- Jill Dunlop, MPP for Simcoe North, becomes Minister of Colleges and Universities.
- Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, MPP for Kanata-Carleton, becomes Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
- Parm Gill, MPP for Milton, becomes Minister of Citizenship and Multiculturalism.
- Rod Phillips, MPP for Ajax, becomes Minister of Long-Term Care.
- Dave Piccini, MPP for Northumberland-Peterborough South, becomes Minister of Environment.
- Greg Rickford, MPP for Kenora-Rainy River, assumes a merged role as Minister of Northern Development, Mining, Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as Indigenous Affairs. This new northern and economic focused ministry will enhance development potential and sustainability in the North. Energy will transfer to a new separate ministry.
- Todd Smith, MPP for Bay of Quinte, becomes Minister of Energy.
- Ross Romano, MPP for Sault Ste. Marie, becomes Minister of Government and Consumer Services.
- Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria, MPP for Brampton South, becomes President of the Treasury Board.
- Kinga Surma, MPP for Etobicoke Centre, becomes Minister of Infrastructure.
- Lisa Thompson, MPP for Huron Bruce, becomes Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.
- Stan Cho, MPP for Willowdale, becomes Associate Minister of Transportation, reporting to Minister Mulroney.
- Jane McKenna, MPP for Burlington, becomes Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues, reporting to Minister Fullerton.
- Nina Tangri, MPP for Mississauga Streetsville, becomes Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape, reporting to Minister Fedeli.
- Kaleed Rasheed, MPP for Mississauga East-Cooksville, becomes Associate Minister of Digital Government, reporting to Minister Bethlenfalvy.