10/19/2011 09:02 EDT | Updated 12/19/2011 05:12 EST

McGuinty Cabinet Shuffle: Chris Bentley To Energy, Deb Matthews Stays At Health


TORONTO - The minority Liberals will unveil a leaner cabinet Thursday with no new faces as Premier Dalton McGuinty sticks to his election mantra that uncertain economic times require a steady hand at the tiller.

Sources confirmed Wednesday that the new, reduced cabinet will include 22 ministers, including the premier, down from the previous 28.

Despite speculation that a member of the opposition may cross the floor to give the government a majority, no Progressive Conservatives or New Democrats defected.

Instead, it will be a veteran group introduced by McGuinty on Thursday as many of the ministers re-elected Oct. 6 were rewarded with cabinet posts.

"This cabinet has the experience Ontario needs to steer us through a very uncertain global economy," a source familiar with the appointments said.

"It's a strong, steady group that's focused on jobs and economy growth."

McGuinty had promised a smaller cabinet to match the reduced Liberal presence in the provincial legislature after losing four ministers in the election and falling to 53 seats from 72, and will present the smallest cabinet since 1998.

Under the shuffle, Attorney General Chris Bentley will become Ontario's new energy minister while Deb Matthews will remain health minister and Dwight Duncan, who was re-appointed finance minister immediately after the election, will also take on the role of deputy premier.

Bentley has been handed an uphill battle, because he will have to implement the province's Green Energy Act, which has raised the ire of many voters over what they said was lack of consultation on wind projects.

Critics have also pointed to rising hydro bills because of McGuinty's focus on renewable energy, another issue Bentley will have to address.

John Gerretsen — who oversaw a controversial attempt to bring in eco fees — will become attorney general, while Laurel Broten will be promoted to the Ministry of Education after Leona Dombrowsky's defeat. It's a move away from her role as Minister of Children and Youth Services, which will now be led by Eric Hoskins, but Broten will maintain responsibility for Women's Issues.

Jim Bradley will move to the Ministry of the Environment from Community Safety, which will be handled, along with Francophone Affairs, by Madeleine Meilleur.

Former Energy Minister Brad Duguid will now head up a combined Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation, while Liberal Ted McMeekin will return to cabinet as minister of agriculture. There had been speculation that the Liberals would try to lure an opposition member with that post after losing all of their rural ridings in the election.

Among other appointments, former Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne will do double duty as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, while Ottawa's Bob Chiarelli will man Transportation and the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Former Labour Minister Charles Sousa will hand the reins over to Linda Jeffrey, who will also be responsible for seniors, and take over Citizenship and Immigration.

The shuffle will also place Glen Murray at Training, Colleges and Universities, and John Milloy with Community and Social Services. Milloy will also become house leader.

Harinder Takhar and Michael Chan will remain at their respective positions at Government Services and Tourism and Culture.

Margarett Best will leave the defunct Ministry of Health Promotion for Consumer Services, while Michael Gravelle will split his former duties with another northern minister, Sudbury's Rick Bartolucci. He who will take over Northern Development and Mines while Gravelle will oversee Natural Resources, which will include Forestry.

Bartolucci will act as cabinet chair and the premier will be in charge of intergovernmental affairs.

The Liberals have also promised to get back to work soon and to work with the opposition parties, but have yet to give a date for the legislature to resume.

Earlier Wednesday Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak filled three key positions for his party, saying Christine Elliott will remain as deputy leader, as well as naming Jim Wilson house leader and John Yakabuski chief whip.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, had appointed Toronto's Cheri DiNovo as the party's chief whip and northeastern Ontario's Gilles Bisson as house leader.

The whip is an important position in a minority government, especially because the Liberals are one seat short of a majority. That means the two opposition parties combined have 54 seats and every vote will count.

The next step for the Liberals will be to nominate candidates for the role of Speaker, who acts as the legislature's guardian and political referee during Question Period and must be chosen before parliament can return with a throne speech.

The opposition parties have signalled they don't plan to put forward any names to avoid tipping the balance in favour of the Liberals.