The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.
PREMIER Dalton McGuinty will announce the makeup of his new cabinet today. The election took its toll on both former ministers and Liberal strength and this will likely be reflected in a leaner front bench.
Some ministers would appear to remain locks on their portfolios and Michael Gravelle at Northern Development is surely among them. If not, then who?
Seeking a third term with sinking pre-election popularity back in the summer, a number of ministers declined to run again. Most notable among those was Sandra Pupatello, the former economic development and trade minister, who said she needed new challenges after 16 years at Queen’s Park. One of McGuinty’s most impressive ministers, it would not be surprising to see her seek the party leadership when the premier steps down as expected before the next election.
McGuinty also lost other high-profile politicians prior to the vote, including ministers Monique Smith, Gerry Phillips, David Ramsay and Steve Peters, who was speaker.
If this signalled fading faith in the party brand, some of those people might now be kicking themselves after McGuinty dragged the Liberals back from an 11-point hole in the polls to come within one seat of another majority.
Still, the election itself took its own toll on the ministry.
Environment Minister John Wilkinson had earlier been handed the unenviable task of selling the public on the harmonized sales tax when he was Revenue minister. With his new portfolio came the Green Energy Act, wind turbines and smart meters. His loss was not surprising.
Also gone are Leona Dombrowsky at Education and Carol Mitchell at Agriculture.
Observers had predicted Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne would have a tough time but she wound up taking Don Valley West with ease. Look for her to star in today’s new lineup, perhaps at Health where Deb Matthews has not inspired confidence in the government’s plans for this most expensive and challenging of portfolios. Matthews could move into Dombrowsky’s job at Education.
Brad Duguid has been similarly meek at Energy and it would not be surprising to see him moved.
All northern eyes are of course on Gravelle whose likeability factor is so high he kept Thunder Bay-Superior North with an increased — though still relatively small — majority.
Gravelle did this despite a determined campaign by powerful corporate interests against his Far North Act and widespread aboriginal opposition to his changes to the Mining Act.
Gravelle has said he would like to keep his portfolio but that he would be willing to serve anywhere in cabinet. A demotion or ejection for Gravelle would be surprising and who else but a northerner can credibly run this department?
Gravelle has kept his cool while having to carry out McGuinty’s wishes on the northern files.
Environmental interests, which had already caused cancellation of the spring bear hunt, were also largely responsible for the Far North Act deleting half of the vast region from development. Chambers of commerce joined mining and forestry interests in active opposition to the act which Gravelle has had to defend. If his heart was not in it, he didn’t let it show.
His position between the mining and aboriginal communities is even more difficult. McGuinty has shown with the prolonged native dispute at Caledonia that he’s in no hurry to try to force decisions on the notoriously slow native decision-making process. Thus, when mine exploration teams stake claims on Crown land, and are ordered off by First Nations making traditional territorial claims that may be hundreds of kilometres away, Gravelle ends up in the middle trying to placate both parties. It’s a largely impossible task with, in some cases, no end in sight.
Mining is supposed to be the economic salvation of Northern Ontario, and could be that for many First Nations adjacent to promising mineral deposits. Finding common ground is much of what Gravelle does and he enjoys the respect of most players. As such, there’s really no one else who could jump into this fray without potentially making it worse.