... a question that surely has been circulating through people's minds since the results came in on Oct. 6 showing Leona Dombrowsky had been defeated in her Belleville-area riding.
I was somewhat shocked, to say the truth. Not being as connected as people in the region, I wasn't anticipating that her seat was under threat. Coverage from the night shows it might have come as a surprise to her as well, though fingers also pointed at the HST and the ongoing debate over wind energy developments. While no one's thumping their chest on the first, at least one group is on the second.
Regardless of all that, the question now becomes who will Ontario's next education minister be?
Looking at who was re-elected, an easy choice is Dombrowsky's predecessor, Kathleen Wynne. Wynne, despite the shuffle / lateral move / demotion to Transport a few years ago, has been Dalton McGuinty's longest-serving education minister and was in that ministry when she defeated then OPC leader John Tory in 2007.
Wynne may not have been shepherding the implementation of full-day kindergarten (and let's face it, the premier was the public face of that program), but she shepherded Bil 177 and the first few tests of the province's school-closure guidelines. She was the minister when the current and soon-to-expire collective agreements were negotiated.
If McGuinty chooses to leave Wynne at Transport or move her into another portfolio whose minister was shown the door Oct. 6, who's left that's a known quantity on the Liberal bench that has the chops to handle the education portfolio?
Looking at former parliamentary assistants to the ministry is one way to go.
The most recent was Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who was in the PA slot until the writ was dropped. His social-media outreach is incredible and he appears to be very well liked by his constituents. He's a lawyer by trade though and the preference of late has been to either put reformers in the slot or people with political experience in school boards.
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale's Ted McMeekin was an education PA earlier in the McGuinty government, and he's been in cabinet since 2007. If memory serves he was PA when former minister Gerard Kennedy pushed through the first omnibus bill in the government's first term of office. He may have also had the role during Sandra Pupatello's brief tenure in the ministry.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals was the longest-serving PA for education since 2003. In addition to that honour, she chaired a number of strategic legislative projects around safe schools and the initial shepherding of FDK legislation. Sandals is a past public board trustee and past-president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.
Looking around the rest of the caucus, some others' names have popped up. In my work riding (Brant) reelected MPP Dave Levac is a former teacher and I did see a mention or two of his name and education within social-media feeds. That position would surprise me for Levac, who isn't (publicly anyway) egging for a cabinet position of any kind.
I don't know enough about the background of the rest of the field elected or reelected Oct. 6 to confidently predict whether any would be in contention as strong candidates for education minister.
The next minister will have to work to complete implementation of FDK, negotiate a new round of collective agreements for every school employee group and take boards through what will no doubt be interesting times of trying to muddle through times when the education budget will be under severe pressure to match the enrolments that will for the most part continue to drop throughout this next term of government.
For my vote (and a coffee, whatever it's worth to you as a reader), I say Sandals gets the nod, with my backup choice being Wynne. For all the complications of cabinet-making, the minister will likely be a woman and this may be a post that helps the government if it's not given to a Toronto-area MPP.
Place your friendly wagers in the comments section. I promise I won't email you to collect on any coffee.