With Ontario’s stay-at-home order set to expire on Wednesday and a decision on a possible re-opening of schools expected any day, there is word that the premier is considering a major revamp of his cabinet.
Despite large pandemic decisions still looming, Doug Ford is apparently preparing his team for the next provincial election.
The Toronto Star is reporting that Ford is looking to shuffle his cabinet after the legislature rises for the summer break on Thursday. A senior official telling the Star, “there will be lots of changes this summer.”
Ontario will head to the polls in a year, and political observers say uncertainty surrounding pandemic life will have a significant impact on the province’s next election.
The premier reportedly wants to create a more diverse cabinet team ahead of the next election. As part of the shuffle, he wants to give a higher profile to some Conservative MPPs to boost their chances of re-election.
The thought is that some cabinet ministers in secure PC ridings could afford to be moved out of their portfolios and still win their ridings.
It is also believed that Ford may be targeting some of the ministers who spoke out against the negative impact of pandemic lockdowns.
Ford’s approval ratings have seen a sharp drop in recent months and his chances to hold on as premier will hinge on his ability to bring the province out of the pandemic and change the channel to issues more suited to his party’s strengths, the experts say.
“This election is going to be crazy hard to predict,” Western University political science professor Cristine de Clercy said, adding that voters’ natural inclination to re-elect a first-term government may not apply in this case.
“The stress and challenge of COVID has aged this government more prematurely than normal, so it could be that people are unusually ready to debate the merits of the incumbent.”
A recent Abacus Data poll found 46 per cent of respondents had a negative view of the premier, up from 37 per cent in March.
Ford has also said an announcement on whether to reopen schools to in-person learning will be made within the next day or two.
Ford is still going over the responses from health experts and the teachers unions about their positions on the return to in-person learning. There are just over three weeks left in the school year.
In response to Ford’s open letter issued last week, Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table said Saturday they believe schools can reopen safely on a regional basis for in-person learning for the last month of the school year.
The province signaled on Friday that despite improving circumstances across the province, it’s unlikely that Ontario will move ahead with reopening before Step 1 of the plan that is set to commence on June 14.
“We’re going to be opening up but we’re going to be opening up cautiously and carefully, very cautiously and very carefully because I do not want to happen what happened before and all of a sudden the cases go up,” said Ford.
With files from the Canadian Press