TORONTO - Ontario's newly elected Premier Kathleen Wynne is warning of "difficult choices" ahead as her majority Liberal government prepares to implement its left-leaning agenda while keeping a promise to slay a $12.5-billion deficit.
Wynne added more muscle to the massive finance and health portfolios in her revamped 27-member cabinet, which was sworn in Tuesday.
The traditional finance file will be divided into three parts. Charles Sousa stayed on as finance minister, while veteran Deb Matthews moved up to the new, powerful position of Treasury Board president, tasked with tightening the province's belt to balance the books in three years.
Sousa, who plans to re-introduce the budget July 14, will also get a helping hand from associate minister Mitzie Hunter, who will be in charge of setting up the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.
"We have some real challenges confronting us in terms of eliminating the deficit by 2017-18," Wynne said after the ceremony.
"So it's very important to me that I have the ability to work with both the minister of finance and the president of the Treasury Board to make sure that we do that in the very best way possible."
Her government will be "wise and prudent" with its spending, but will continue to invest to help with the province's economic recovery, she said.
The $130.4-billion spending blueprint aims to stimulate the economy with big spending, including $2.5 billion in corporate grants to lure businesses to Ontario and better wages for workers in health care and education.
Matthews, who will continue to serve as deputy premier, will oversee provincial agencies and take on tough negotiations with public sector workers to freeze wages.
She earned a reputation for playing hardball during her five years in the health portfolio, taking on pharmacists, pharmaceutical companies and doctors to curb skyrocketing health-care costs.
Some public sector unions have taken credit for helping the Liberals defeat the austerity-driven Progressive Conservatives in the June 12 election, but Matthews said her party made it clear during the campaign that there was no money for wage increases.
"It isn't going to be all lollipops and rainbows," she said. "We've got some hard work ahead of us, but I think we're up to it."
However, Education Minister Liz Sandals suggested pay increases are possible for teachers if savings can be found elsewhere.
Wynne also put a fresh face on the troubled health portfolio, appointing Eric Hoskins — a medical doctor and humanitarian who's held several cabinet posts — as health minister.
Associate minister Dipika Damerla, who'll be dealing with long-term care, will help Hoskins manage a ministry that's been raked over the coals for the spending scandal at the province's Ornge air ambulance service and electronic health records.
Wynne is trying to start a new chapter, said Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Toronto's Ryerson University.
By selecting a doctor to run Ontario's health-care system — which consumes nearly half of every dollar the government spends — Wynne is signalling that she values someone with expertise at the helm.
"I think she's realizing that there has been criticism of some of the activities that have gone on in that ministry and she's trying to start off with a strong minister with as much credibility as possible," Siemiatycki said.
Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca is moving up to the front benches to take on another of Wynne's top priorities: administering a $29-billion fund over 10 years to build transit and transportation infrastructure across the province.
His predecessor, Glen Murray, is minister of environment and climate change, freeing up Jim Bradley — one of the longest serving MPPs — who'll still sit in cabinet as chairman.
"A big part of making sure that our province is a great place to live is investing in the next generation of infrastructure," said Wynne.
"It's a key component of our plan," she said. "We need better roads, better highways and better bridges and better hospitals and schools."
The premier warned that Ontario would lose its competitive advantage globally if its "talented workforce is stuck in traffic for hours and hours each day."
Brad Duguid also took on a bigger role as minister of economic development, employment and infrastructure, Michael Coteau was put in charge of the 2015 Pan Am Games as well as tourism, culture and sport, while Michael Chan transferred to citizenship, immigration and international trade.
Ted McMeekin serves as minister of municipal affairs and housing, while Helena Jaczek takes over his old job at community and social services.
David Orazietti moves to the revamped government and consumer services ministry.
Several ministers will keep their old jobs, including Bob Chiarelli in energy, Madeleine Meilleur as attorney general, Michael Gravelle at northern development and mines, Kevin Flynn in labour and David Zimmer at aboriginal affairs.
Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi will add government house leader to his title with Bradley as deputy.
Wynne will hand over her role as minister of agriculture and food to Rural Affairs Minister Jeff Leal, but will keep her job as minister of intergovernmental affairs.
As Ontario's first elected female premier, Wynne said she was proud to have eight women in her cabinet, up from six before the election was called.
The next step is bringing the legislature back on July 2 to elect a Speaker, then a speech from the throne on July 3.
With a majority of seats in the legislature, she now has the power to ram through the budget and pass government legislation more quickly.
Two veteran Progressive Conservatives — Jim Wilson and John Yakabuski — observed the swearing-in ceremony, but the New Democrat benches were bare.
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