With the Ford government nearing the first anniversary of its re-election, chatter among Progressive Conservative insiders about a looming front-bench shakeup has heated up.
According to the premier's office, that's all just talk at this point. "There is no cabinet shuffle planned," Ford's spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Should that position be held over the next few weeks, it'd nip in the bud expectations that are spreading through PC circles.
Of the seven unconnected sources in or close to the Ford government who told The Trillium they expected, or had heard talk of, a reconfiguration of cabinet being in the works, all maintained that no changes had been confirmed. These sources were granted anonymity, as they'd otherwise be unable to disclose what they were aware of.
Caroline Mulroney was the cabinet member who was brought up the most by these sources, with five of them saying she'd be a likely candidate for a portfolio change.
Mulroney has been Ontario's transportation minister since June 20, 2019, when Ford did a near top-to-bottom overhaul of his cabinet after a rocky first year as premier. Mulroney had been attorney general before then. She's also been Francophone Affairs minister since Ford made his first ministerial assignments after being elected.
Other ministers who at least several sources suggested would be likely candidates to shift portfolios in the event of a shuffle happening soon included Stan Cho and Prabmeet Sarkaria. Cho is currently associate transportation minister, while Sarkaria is Treasury Board president.
There wasn't a broad consensus among sources about how large in scale a cabinet shuffle happening soon would be, but three were confident in fewer ministers being reassigned than in past shuffles — and most certainly less than in the summer of 2019, for example.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has in the past been told he's being moved from the portfolio he's held since June 20, 2019, three sources said, but never had the change actually materialize. Four sources said they weren't aware of plans being made to move him to another ministerial position at this time. Lecce is still involved in negotiations with education unions — including major ones like the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association — that he's been handling for much of the last year.
Most of the sources The Trillium spoke to suggested the premier's office could be working on other cabinet changes, but these weren't as strongly substantiated by others as those already mentioned.
Three sources also said some ministers' chiefs-of-staff could be moved around soon, which could affect whether ministers' portfolios are shaken up in the short term.
Typically, the details of cabinet shuffles are closely held by the premier's office. Most of the sources The Trillium spoke to also said that many decisions tend not to be finalized until very close to a shakeup taking place.
Four sources also pointed to June as being likely timing for a shuffle, based on the point in time in the parliamentary calendar. June 8 is the last scheduled sitting day at Queen's Park until September. Should a cabinet shuffle take place in the next few weeks, it'd give ministers their best opportunity to study up on their files before having to face the prospect of daily opposition challenges in question period. With the exception of 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford has changed his cabinet every June since being elected.