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What does Ontario’s new Cabinet mean for Environment and Energy issues?

Re-elected Premier Dalton McGuinty's new cabinet was sworn-in on October 20. At this stage it looks, on the whole, like good news for environmental issues. Veteran Jim Bradley, who as environment minister from 1985-1990 in the government of David Peterson transformed the ministry from a relatively minor player within the province government to a major centre of influence, returns to the environment portfolio. Bradley put a solid but unspectacular performance in the previous McGuinty government as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing - it is unclear if he is intended to continue in that mode at the Ministry of the Environment or whether his appointment might signal a return to a more activist agenda.

The appointment of the extremely capable Kathleen Wynne as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing would seem likely to cement the progressive directions on land-use planning in southern Ontario that were established during John Gerretsen's tenure in the portfolio, including the Greenbelt and reforms to the Planning Act, under the first McGuinty government. The integration of the infrastructure and transportation portfolios under former Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarrelli may strengthen the focus on public transit, and more broadly the integration of land-use planning and transportation, although that remains to be seen. The apparent return of responsibility for forest management to the Natural Resources portfolio, now under John Gravelle, from the economic development oriented Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, also looks like a positive development.

Chris Bentley, the Attorney General in the second McGuinty government has been assigned the energy portfolio. The statement on his appointment from the Premier's office that he "will continue to drive Ontario's transition towards clean, renewable energy while ensuring we stay on track to create 50,000 clean energy jobs" would seem to reinforce the message that the Green Energy Act's Feed-in-Tariff system is secure, although a series of serious challenges lie ahead within the portfolio.

Finally, John Gerretsen has been appointed as Attorney-General. Gerretsen, who was the author of a number of progressive initiatives while minister of municipal affairs and housing and then environment, will be now be handling the question of whether the government will introduce anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation. The likelihood of some sort of legislative initiative would now seem much greater.

Although the new appointments provide some short-term reasons for optimism, it is important to keep in mind that the province's fiscal situation means that the possibility of a major retrenchment remains very real. The prospect of an extensive restructuring of the province's approach to environment and natural resources matters, pending the report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services, continues to loom large as well.