It certainly wasn't a “stop the presses” moment upon learning newly-elected MPP Greg Rickford, who captured the Kenora-Rainy River riding quite handily in the June 7 provincial election, was sworn in as a cabinet minister in Premier Doug Ford's new government during a ceremony Friday morning at Queen's Park.
He was, after all, the only Progressive Conservative candidate to be elected in Northern Ontario west of Nipissing and, as such, would be a much-needed voice to represent our region's interests at the cabinet table.
As well, Mr. Rickford already had valuable experience sitting in cabinet while the federal MP for Kenora under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The surprise was Mr. Rickford being handed not one but three cabinet portfolios to oversee in energy, northern development and mines, and indigenous affairs—the only one of the 21 cabinet ministers in all to be given such responsibility. And while it can be argued the three are somewhat intertwined, it is a full plate nonetheless on top of his duties as our MPP.
Premier Ford clearly thinks Mr. Rickford is capable of handling all three ministries. Mr. Rickford, himself, is equally confident he's up to the job, arguing the 28 cabinet ministers in the former Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne was “excessive.”
The PCs campaigned on a promise to save taxpayers' money by shrinking the size of government—and the decision to go with a small cabinet obviously reflects that. But the move does come at a price. Some, for instance, are lamenting that northern development and mines no longer has a stand-alone minister although with a northerner handling that portfolio, the real impact of that on the region should be marginal at worst.
More troubling is the move to eliminate a stand-alone minister for indigenous affairs, which has been the case for the past several years after being a key recommendation stemming from the Ipperwash inquiry back in 2007. The Nishnawbe Aski Nation, for one, called it a “step backward” and it certainly gives the perception, at the very least, that indigenous affairs is not seen as a priority by the Ford government.
Yes, Mr. Rickford has experience dealing with indigenous communities as both a nurse and lawyer, and may be the best person in cabinet to head up that ministry. But given the intricacies of the relationship, maintaining a stand-alone minister was a missed opportunity by the Ford government to make the right gesture.
Still, it's welcomed news to have our riding represented at the cabinet table again for the first time since Howard Hampton served as natural resources minister and then attorney general under the former NDP government of Bob Rae from 1990-95. As Mr. Rickford correctly put it, Kenora-Rainy River has a seat “at the big table where the big decisions are made.” And that can only be a good thing.
We congratulate Mr. Rickford on his appointment to cabinet and wish him well in his new responsibilities.