National News

Mitzie Hunter to be elevated to cabinet

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - Premier Kathleen Wynne will give her finance minister an extra hand to work on creating a made-in-Ontario pension plan when she unveils her cabinet later today.

The Canadian Press has learned Mitzie Hunter will be named associate minister of finance responsible for the proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan.

A source says Hunter — who was first elected last August - will help the Liberals roll out the pension plan by 2017.

The source also says Charles Sousa will stay on as finance minister while Liz Sandals is expected to remain in her role as education minister.

But the massive health portfolio will change hands. Eric Hoskins will take over as health minister, with veteran Deb Matthews moving to treasury board.

Matthews, who also serves as deputy premier, has held the health job since 2009.

Hunter will work closely with the government-appointed advisory panel to set up the pension plan, which includes former prime minister Paul Martin and Michael Nobrega, former CEO of OMERS.

She previously served as parliamentary assistant to the minister of community and social services and introduced a private member's bill in the last legislative session that would allow ranked ballots in Toronto municipal elections, beginning in 2018.

Hunter served as CEO of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance before entering provincial politics.

Her job is among the new kinds of positions that will be created within the 27-member cabinet. But Wynne has said newly-elected Liberals — who have yet to be sworn in as MPPs — won't be among them.

Wynne will lighten her load by shedding her role as minister of agriculture and food, but will keep her job as minister of intergovernmental affairs.

The newly elected premier is still chairwoman of the Council of the Federation until August and is pressing the federal Conservatives to provide more financial support to Ontario.

A recent report by the parliamentary budget officer shows Ottawa is shortchanging the province $1.2 billion under the current system of equalization payments — a longstanding complaint of Ontario premiers.

Wynne also wants federal funds to help develop the Ring of Fire mineral deposit and build transit infrastructure.

She's castigated Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not expanding the Canada Pension Plan, which spurred efforts to create a provincial plan.

Even before the June 12 election was called, Wynne complained that Harper's antipathy towards pension reform was "offensive and inexplicable," repeating it often during the campaign.

It infuriated Treasury Board president Tony Clement, who called the Ontario pension plan a "huge tax grab" and publicly announced he wanted Wynne to be drummed out of office by voters.

Instead, they gave her Liberals a majority of seats in the legislature, ensuring that the May 1 budget that included the pension proposal will pass.

Wynne plans to re-open the legislature July 2 with a speech from the throne and re-introduce the budget which triggered the snap election shortly thereafter.

The $130.4-billion spending blueprint aims to stimulate the economy with big spending, including $29 billion for public transit, roads and bridges over a decade, $2.5 billion in corporate grants to lure businesses to Ontario and better wages for workers in health care and education.

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