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MacLeod and other top ministers demoted in Ford government cabinet shuffle

Nepean MPP and Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod's outburst against Ottawa Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk was simply baffling.
Nepean MPP and Sports Minister Lisa MacLeod's outburst against Ottawa Senators' owner Eugene Melnyk was simply baffling.

After months as the face of the Ford government’s contentious autism policy, MPP Lisa MacLeod was demoted Thursday as part of a massive cabinet shuffle that saw a number of key ministers bumped.

MacLeod, who represents Nepean, was Ottawa’s highest profile cabinet minister with five portfolios, including children, community and social services.

She tweeted she was “grateful to make meaningful changes that will protect what matters most. I look forward to working to make life better for everyone in Ontario.”

MacLeod’s move to the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport was just one of the high-profile cabinet demotions in Thursday’s shuffle. Vic Fedeli was shuffled from finance to minister of economic development after delivering just one budget. Lisa Thompson, who had been the focus of protests as Minister of Education, will now be responsible for government and consumer services. Caroline Mulroney, who had been attorney general, was moved to the Ministry of Transportation.

Rod Phillips, who had been Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, takes over as finance minister; Kanata-Carleton MPP Merrilee Fullerton, who was Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, becomes the minister in charge of long-term care; and Michael Tibolla becomes the minister in charge of mental health and addictions — which divides the health portfolio in three. Christine Elliott remains as health minister in charge of ongoing system restructuring. The new cabinet is significantly larger — from 21 to 28.

The shuffle comes after a chaotic first year for Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government. Government cuts and policies have been the focus of protest from parents of autistic children, high school and post-secondary students, teachers, public health officials and more.

Meanwhile, the premier faces plummeting poll numbers, fed by a steady drip of stories about cuts and layoffs since the budget was tabled in April. In a seeming public expression of those polls, Ford was booed on stage during last week’s Toronto Raptors’ victory parade.

In a post-shuffle news conference Thursday, Ford blamed media coverage for his poor approval ratings.

Geneviève Tellier, a political science professor at uOttawa, said the firing of a finance minister is highly unusual because it can signal a lack of confidence in the budget — a government’s most critical piece of legislation.

“To get rid of Fedeli right away and replace him with somebody who has no experience and is still a rookie, that is strange,” she said. “You normally don’t get rid of your finance minister so early in a mandate.”

MacLeod, in a series of tweets Thursday, said she was proud to have served as Minster of Children, Community and Social Services and the minister responsible for women’s issues.

“As the heart of the Peoples’ government, we’ve done some fantastic work for Ontario’s most vulnerable.”

Among a list of accomplishments, she noted she had “heard from those with lived experience about how we can best support our province’s children. We’re beginning consultations on child welfare, we’re enhancing the Ontario Autism Program and I’ve been proud to stand with LGBT2SQ children and youth.”

Thousands of parents of children with autism have questioned the claim that the government is enhancing the autism program.

Since MacLeod announced the government’s highly anticipated autism policy in early February, she and the Ford government have been the focus of protests and growing concerns about the mishandling of the file and lack of supports for children with autism and their families, who say the program does not offer enough money for needed therapy for many children.

Kerry Monaghan, the mother of two children on the autism spectrum who lives in MacLeod’s riding, called the shuffle a “step in the right direction. I think a new face is the right move.”

Monaghan noted that MacLeod has not met with a single family to discuss the issue since February and that her statements on the issue have become increasingly personal and defensive. MacLeod has also faced threats. An Ottawa woman plead guilty to threatening the minister.

Monaghan said she hopes the shuffle resets the relationship between autism families and the Ford government.

“I hope that the autism community takes this as a gesture of good faith to move forward and look at this as a clean slate,” she said.

“I don’t envy the job that Lisa MacLeod was given. It was a complicated file and with five portfolios, it was a big job. I don’t think anything good was going to come from her remaining on this file.”

Monaghan said she hopes the move “symbolizes a turning point and stepping away from all of these petty contentious issues between the minister and (parents). I hope we can start fresh and focus on the direction we should be going.”

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, a former broadcaster in the Belleville area, was named Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. He and Jill Dunlop, the new associate minister of children’s and women’s issues, will take on the autism file.

MacLeod has promoted violence-against-women initiatives and spearheaded Rowan’s Law on concussion safety.

“I’m excited to be appointed to the important role of minister of tourism, culture and sport. After all, I come from a city of festivals!” MacLeod tweeted. “I’m especially looking forward to raising awareness of Rowan’s Law and presenting citizenship awards.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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