While there was much palace intrigue when Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his cabinet shuffle last month, there was one elephant in the room that was not discussed: the cabinet’s size.
Before Ford was sworn into office in 2018, he promised to slim down the size of the province’s cabinet, which had ballooned dramatically under former premier Kathleen Wynne.
When Wynne announced her final cabinet shuffle in advance of the 2018 provincial election, she unveiled a 29-member cabinet, the largest in Ontario’s history. At the time, Wynne’s Liberal caucus had just 55 members, meaning more than half of them were appointed to the province’s executive board.
Ford promised to change that.
“It’s going to be smaller than the previous cabinet,” announced Ford just hours before being sworn in as Ontario’s premier.
Shrinking the size of cabinet was in line with Ford’s election campaign theme of standing up for taxpayers.
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He kept that promise, but only for a while.
Ford’s first cabinet had just 21 members, representing slightly more than a quarter of the Progressive Conservative caucus.
When Ontario’s provincial legislators are appointed to the cabinet, they receive a salary increase of 42 per cent. The average pay for a cabinet minister is $165,000 per year.
By slimming down the size of cabinet, Ford saved taxpayers nearly half a million dollars per year in ministerial pay. Having fewer offices and government employees also saved the province millions more.
Regrettably, Ford’s commitment to a smaller cabinet was short-lived. Ford has allowed the size of his cabinet to balloon back up to 29 spots.
This means that when Ford unveiled his cabinet shuffle last month, his cabinet grew to the same size that the final Wynne cabinet had been when Ford won the election.
In the span of 36 months, Ford’s cabinet has expanded by 38 per cent.
That’s not good.
The main driver of cabinet growth has been the reappearance of so-called associate ministers.
When Ford was first elected, he scrapped those redundant positions created under the guise of helping senior ministers.
Ministers already have staff, parliamentary secretaries, and huge government bureaucracies to work with. Creating sidekick cabinet members doesn’t make sense.
Ford has now fallen victim to the same temptations as Wynne. Instead of removing underperforming ministers from cabinet completely, Ford created new positions and caused his cabinet to grow.
That’s like dumping fertilizer on top of a garden without pulling the weeds out first. It’s going to become a mess of overgrowth.
The rationale for creating these new ministries is lost in the brambles.
Last month, Ford appointed Stan Cho as an associate minister of transportation.
Meanwhile, Caroline Mulroney has been the province’s minister of transportation since 2019.
What exactly is Cho’s job? Why does this $138,000 per year post exist when Ontario already has a transportation minister?
Rather than making difficult choices, Ford has introduced five associate minister positions after having eliminated them in 2018.
The growth of Ford’s cabinet is a symptom of a broader malaise. It is a lack of respect for taxpayer dollars and a failure to constrain an increasingly bloated government.
This is a problem.
Managing government is similar to managing a household: if one doesn’t take care of the small stuff, the big stuff will get out of control.
Ontarians elected Ford three years ago because he promised to defend taxpayers. By supersizing his cabinet back to the weight of Wynne’s, Ford is signalling that he has lost touch with the principles he used to promote.
Ford needs to cut his cabinet back down to size.
Jay Goldberg is a Troy Media columnist and keeping an Eye on Ontario. For interview requests, click here.
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… but he had to chop a significant chunk out of Toronto Council… just as they were having an election.