2 min

Whither Ontario cabinet shuffle?

Two months in, political observers say Glen Murray will have to wait

When newly minted MPP Glen Murray was elected in February, the word on the tip of everyone’s tongue was “cabinet.” After all, Murray, the gay former mayor of Winnipeg, has a history in politics — and he took the riding vacated by an outspoken gay cabinet minister, George Smitherman, who resigned to run for mayor of Toronto.

Now, the talk is cooling, with veteran political observers divided on whether Murray will get a portfolio any time soon.

Early last month, Murray won a provincial by-election in Toronto Centre. At the time, he was touted as a star Liberal candidate. But that’s why Murray, and another Liberal by-election winner — former Ottawa mayor Bob Chiarelli — might present Premier Dalton McGuinty with a few headaches, according to Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto political science professor.

Regardless of their appeal, there are other Liberals who have been waiting in the wings for years and also have an eye on job promotions. Wiseman points to the batch of backbenchers who were elected in 2003 and 2007 and have yet to be named to cabinet.

Warren Kinsella, a political consultant and McGuinty campaigner, explained the tightrope McGuinty walks when he shuffles cabinet.

“[Premiers] have to balance the need for so-called new blood with the need to ensure that longer-serving members of the team don’t feel they’re being passed over unfairly,” he wrote in an email.

Both Murray and Chiarelli are veterans of municipal politics who have experience running big cities. Murray was the mayor of Winnipeg from 1998 until 2004. After that, he was an unsuccessful Liberal candidate in a suburban Winnipeg riding during the 2004 federal election.

Wiseman thinks that because both men have extensive experience with cities, they are both well-suited for the municipal affairs portfolio.

But Kinsella and Robert Silver, a Toronto lawyer and one-time McGuinty advisor, think that Murray and Chiarelli would serve cabinet better in different roles.

“It is dangerous to slot a former physician, say, into health, or an economist into finance,” wrote Kinsella. “You sometimes — oftentimes — need men or women who can offer a contrarian opinion.”

Silver agreed with Kinsella.

“I’d be very surprised if either of them goes into municipal affairs,” said Silver. “It may be counterintuitive, but it’s a tough portfolio if you come from that [municipal] world.”

Silver said it’s more likely that the aboriginal affairs portfolio will be split from the attorney general. Chris Bentley currently serves both roles. He also said that the energy and infrastructure portfolio, held by Brad Duguid, could be split.

As far as timing is concerned, Wiseman said the next shuffle could come at the end of this year or the beginning of 2011. But he said it’s not likely to happen immediately before the legislature is about to sit. Silver said he doesn’t think a shuffle can happen until this summer at the earliest.

Silver said anyone who claims to have the inside scoop on a cabinet shuffle before it happens is one of only a handful of people who know — or a liar.

“There are literally four or five people who know about shuffles prior to them taking place, and they don’t talk to media about them,” he said. “If they did, they would not be one of the four or five people who would know the next time around.”

Glen Murray was not immediately available for comment.