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 June 24.
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.
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.”
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.
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 to 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 Chan transferred to citizenship, immigration and international trade.
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.
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.
The next step is bringing the legislature back on July 2 to elect a Speaker, then a speech from the throne on July 3.