Premier Doug Ford pledges government for the people on the steps of the legislature

Premier Doug Ford pledges government for the people on the steps of the legislature

Stressing a government "for all the people," Doug Ford gave his first public address as Ontario’s 26th premier Friday at an outdoor ceremony, where he pledged "prosperity ... integrity and transparency" before more than 1,000 people, who cheered the first Progressive Conservative leader to seize power in 15 years.

Ford, a one-term Toronto city councillor who took the PC party reins barely three-and-half-months ago after Patrick Brown's ouster, unveiled a leaner cabinet that saw the executive council trimmed down to 21 ministers from 28 under Kathleen Wynne.

Ford, as with Liberal premier David Peterson in 1985, opted to say his oath "out here in the open before all of you, before the people, to set the stage for a government that will always be accountable to you ... a government that is for all the people" — a word he used 15 times in the 12-minute speech.

"My friends, a new day will dawn in Ontario," Ford exclaimed, arms rising as he broke into a laugh under a sunny sky amid 30-degree heat.

The address was bookended by bagpipes courtesy of the Commissioner's Own Pipes and Drums of the Ontario Provincial Police as well as his somewhat less traditional campaign song, titled For the People. It followed Ford's official swearing along with his cabinet by Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell at the legislative building shortly after 11 a.m.

Ford repeated his campaign pledges to eliminate cap and trade, lower gasoline prices and launch a line-by-line audit of government spending — which Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said will start "immediately," but although he couldn't say how long it will take.

The premier will have the opportunity to legislate on carbon pricing and gas taxes at an atypical summer sitting of the house, which he told reporters will start the week of July 9.

Despite a sometimes bitter campaign that became both partisan and personal with accusations over candidate controversies and the legacy of Wynne who officially stepped down Friday — Ford called for non-partisan co-operation.

"We must cross party lines. We must put aside political differences, no matter if it's red, blue, green, or orange," he said.

Still, he didn't miss the opportunity to slam the outgoing Liberal administration "following years of fiscal mismanagement, record levels of debt, and crippling interest payments, crumbling infrastructure, and a broken health care system."

A streamlined cabinet

Christine Elliott — Ford’s rival in the leadership race, a former MPP and most recently Ontario’s patient ombudsman — takes on the largest file, the $54-billion health ministry. She is also deputy premier, giving her penultimate authority and hinting at an olive branch from Ford following recent divisions within a party rocked by scandal and power struggles since Jan. 24, when Brown stepped down over allegations of sexual misconduct that he denies.

Elliott said her top priority is "ending hallway medicine" through more long-term and home-care spaces. Ford has pledged to cut billions in government waste via "efficiencies," but Elliott said that "no one's going to be losing a job" in front-line health care.

Fedeli, who shepherded the government through the 45 dark days between Brown's resignation and Ford's leadership win, becomes cabinet chair on top of his finance portfolio, where he'll work alongside rookie MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy, president of the Treasury Board, to root out $6.1 billion in Ford-pledged "efficiencies."

Lisa Thompson, a Ford stalwart, takes on the role of education minister, tasked with fulfilling the premier's campaign promise to kill sex-ed. Ford himself will serve as minister of intergovernmental affairs.

Seven members of Ford's 21-person cabinet are women. That's the same one-third proportion as his 76-person caucus. It's also roughly the same ratio as Wynne's cabinet.

Raymond Cho, minister for Seniors and Accessibility and a long-time Ford ally, is the only person of colour on the executive team, despite a diverse slate of PC MPPs.

Cho and Ford are also the only two cabinet members from the city of Toronto.

Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton, 41, is the youngest of the bunch.

Star ministers who are nonetheless newcomers to elected office also include, Caroline Mulroney, attorney general and minister responsible for francophone affairs, and Rod Phillips, minister of the environment, conservation and parks.

Phillips will take on the task of untangling Ontario from the cap-and-trade system. Acknowledging the words "climate change" have been removed from his ministry's title — four days after the Ford administration scrapped a $377-million fund for green retrofit rebates for homeowners — he nonetheless called climate change a "critical priority."

"I think the title really relates to the specific responsibilities," he said, "because climate change is part of the environment. Climate change is everybody's issue."

NDP MPP Sara Singh slammed the administration for eliminating or collapsing several ministries.

"Doug Ford's decision to make the Minister of Energy a part-time job is devastating for families who have been struggling for years to keep up with soaring hydro bills," she said.

Indigenous Affairs remains a stand-alone ministry, a portfolio that former Conservative cabinet minister and newly elected Kenora—Rainy MPP Greg Rickford will juggle alongside Energy, Northern Development and Mines — previously two separate ministries.

Citizenship and Immigration falls by the wayside at a time of rising concern over asylum seekers crossing into central Canada. Research, Innovation and Science was also axed.

Francophone Affairs and Women's Issues were downgraded from ministries to "non-portfolio responsibilities." The parliamentary assistant to Community Safety and Correctional Services, Prabmeet Sarkaria, will handle anti-racism issues, previously the purview of the Wynne-launched Anti-Racism Directorate, according to Ford spokesman Simon Jefferies.

Ford's family, including his daughters, wife and brother Randy — decked out in his trademark black cowboy hat — attended the event.

So did the late Rob Ford's widow, Renata Ford, who launched a lawsuit earlier this month alleging her brother-in-law Doug ran the once-profitable Deco Labels & Tags into the ground, losing more than $6 million over the past seven years and draining her and her two children's inheritance.

Also on hand were former premiers Bill Davis, David Peterson, Bob Rae, Mike Harris and Ernie Eves.

Rae called it "regrettable" that "a more candid discussion" about Ford's policy proposals and uncomprehensive platform did not play out before the June 7 election.

He also advised Ford not to "overread" a mandate conferred by 40.5 per cent of the vote. "Every victory is temporary ... Most people didn't vote for the Conservatives," he said, an outcome typical of provincial and federal elections for any party.

"I thought he made a special effort to include everybody and make it clear that he wants to be premier of all the people. We'll just have to see," Rae added. "On a day like today, all you want to do is just wish the very best for the province."

Christopher Reynolds

QP BRIEFING Reporter

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