Ontario's Ford names new finance minister in cabinet shuffle

FILE PHOTO: Ontario Premier Doug Ford speaks to the press following the First Ministers' Meeting in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario Premier Doug Ford named a new finance minister as part of a cabinet shuffle on Thursday, less than a year after his Progressive Conservatives swept into power in Canada’s most populous province.

The Ford government’s popularity has dropped after it took several controversial decisions including cutting healthcare and education spending.

Rod Phillips, the former minister of the environment, was named the new finance minister. He replaces Vic Fedeli, who was given the portfolio of economic development, job creation and trade.

The provincial government is trying to rein in borrowing, which at C$346 billion ($259 billion) in net debt makes Ontario the world’s biggest issuer of sub-sovereign debt.

Among other changes, Stephen Lecce becomes education minister, replacing Lisa Thompson who was named the new minister of government services. Lisa MacLeod, the former minister of children, community and social services, was shifted to minister of tourism, culture and sport.

A poll from Angus Reid early in June found Ford’s approval rating had dropped to 36% in June, from 42% in December 2018.

The Toronto Star reported on Thursday that the C$163.4 billion provincial budget presented by Fedeli in April was met with private disapproval by Ford and by the populist premier’s allies who blamed its rollout for the weak polling numbers.

When asked about the Toronto Star report, Ford spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said ministerial appointments were the “premier’s prerogative and the premier’s alone.”

Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said changing a finance minister after one budget was a “highly unusual” move.

Reporting by Tyler Choi; Editing by Paul Simao