This is a disappointing appointment, considering that Premier Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals made environmental policy one of the pillars of their re-election campaign, up there with health and education and, to a lesser extent, the economy. McGuinty’s health and education ministers are carryovers from his cabinet before the election, and they’re two very strong members of cabinet. In charge of health is George Smitherman, with whom I disagree on a lot but who’s a bulldog of an advocate for his party’s policies, and at education there’s Kathleen Wynne, a popular former school-board chair who beat the leader of the opposition in a local battle for a seat.
But Gerretsen for the environment portfolio? The former mayor of Kingston was minister of municipal affairs and housing in the previous cabinet and was distinctly undistinguished in that role. He shepherded the creation of a massive greenbelt around Toronto, it’s true, but that was very much the premier’s baby. And he handled some changes to the Planning Act that were long overdue and largely uncontroversial. His bio takes credit for a $600-million social-housing program, but the province’s role in that is largely limited to writing cheques to municipalities, which are overjoyed to take the money.
A creative, exciting, innovative guy, John Gerretsen ain’t, is my point, with no particular background in either economics or environmental policy. I’d been hoping for Michael Bryant, the ambitious young attorney-general who’s been sent to the purgatory of the Aboriginal Affairs ministry in the hope he’ll either solve one of the country’s most pernicious social-policy problems or explode spectacularly. And while I knew it was unrealistic, Dwight Duncan — the new finance minister, who’s gone a long way toward fixing the province’s nuclear plants and promoting green power in roughly four years as energy minister — would have been a superb choice.
If you really take the file seriously and recognize how important it is for Ontario’s future as a high-tech manufacturing centre, that’s the calibre of minister you need in charge.