POLITICS
10/20/2011 11:04 EDT | Updated 12/20/2011 05:12 EST

Dalton McGuinty Unveils Ontario Cabinet: Premier Pledges To Work With Other Parties

CP

TORONTO - The new Liberal cabinet will reach out to the opposition parties to ensure a working minority parliament but will not tolerate divisive politics, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Thursday.

McGuinty vowed to listen to all ideas as his new cabinet was sworn in, but also issued a strong warning against "those who seek to divide Ontarians at a time when we need to be strong."

He later defended the comments, denying he was setting a combative tone as the other parties sought to work together.

"I've always said that," McGuinty said. "But I also said that we will extend a hand to anybody who has any good ideas and we will not assess an idea based on its origin, but rather on what it does for us."

McGuinty's cabinet has six fewer ministers than before, fewer women, and includes no new faces as the premier opted for experienced hands in the face of another potential economic crisis.

Asked why there were fewer women and no new ministers, McGuinty bristled, saying the province faced uncertain times that "called for a particular kind of cabinet." He also pointed to the large ministries headed by his female members.

The premier, who is leading Ontario's first minority government in 26 years after falling one seat short of a majority, decided to keep Deb Matthews as health minister and promoted Laurel Broten, who herself has twin boys in the schools system, to Education.

Former Attorney General Chris Bentley has been moved to Energy, and given the unenviable job of defending sky-rocketing hydro bills and overseeing nuclear expansion in a post-Fukushima world.

Dwight Duncan, who was re-appointed finance minister immediately after the election, will also take on the role of deputy premier.

Duncan has been tasked with an economic update that will look at the impact of the global economy on Ontario, and promised Thursday to make the upcoming session "all about jobs."

While no one is yet predicting another recession in the province, he said, "a number of economists have reduced their growth projections for the coming year from where they were at the time of the budget, and I'll be responding to those in due course in the fall economic statement."

The opposition parties welcomed McGuinty's softer approach but said the Liberals missed an opportunity to show voters they understood their call for change by appointing the same ministers to their new, leaner cabinet.

"He's essentially bringing back the same cabinet that he had before, and I think he had an opportunity to give a signal to Ontarians that he's prepared to understand there are some changes that need to happen," said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson.

"There was a real opportunity for the government to signal to the population that this was not going to be the same status quo government, and it's a bit of a doubling down."

Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman echoed that concern, saying the premier isn't signalling things will be different this time around.

"Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," he said outside the Tories' first caucus meeting since the election.

"These are the same people who got us into this mess. They are not going to get us out of this mess."

Still, both parties have said they are willing to work with the government, with Bisson praising the choice of the non-partisan John Milloy as Liberal house leader, saying he sees that as a sign of good faith from the premier.

Among other appointments John Gerretsen, who oversaw a controversial attempt to bring in eco fees, will become attorney general, while former energy minister Brad Duguid will now head a combined Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.

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 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 take on Transportation and the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Former labour minister Charles Sousa will take over Citizenship and Immigration, Linda Jeffrey will move to Labour and also be responsible for seniors.

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

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 oversee Natural Resources, which will include Forestry.

Another northern minister, Sudbury's Rick Bartolucci, will take over Northern Development and Mines, and Ted McMeekin will return to cabinet as minister of agriculture. Eric Hoskins becomes minister of children and youth services.

The new, reduced cabinet will include 22 ministers, including the premier, down from the previous 28, and despite speculation that a member of the opposition may cross the floor to give the government a majority, there are no opposition cabinet ministers.