Fall from grace: Why MPP Laurie Scott may have been pushed out of cabinet
Politics at all levels is often a blood sport where those with power use it to better their chances of electoral success. Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott discovered that yesterday when she was unceremoniously dropped as minister of infrastructure in the provincial cabinet of Conservative Premier Doug Ford.
In the parliamentary system practiced in Canada, a leader worried about their chances of winning re-election will often reshuffle their cabinet as an election nears to put a new face on an unpopular regime.
While some back benchers (as people not in cabinet get labelled) find success when they are added to the inner circle, others have to face the humiliation of a very public demotion.
While only Scott and Ford know the real reasons for the demotion, and neither are speaking, a number of local Conservatives have shared their theories on what happened to Scott.
Theory One – Political retribution
A number of local supporters I spoke with, who requested anonymity, believe whole heartedly that Scott was removed from cabinet, along with four others, for her opposition to the premier’s slow and measured re-opening of the Ontario economy shuttered because of COVID-19.
They suggest that Scott and other rural MPPs argued vociferously for a re-opening based on prevalence of the illness by region. Scott apparently argued the view that with summer coming and infection rates very low Kawartha Lakes could not financially survive a second truncated tourist season.
Numerous larger press outlets reported the spirited exchanges in these spring cabinet meetings, and how angry the premier was at the perceived opposition within his own inner circle. The five demoted ministers have all been identified as part of the group who favoured a different re-opening protocol for their ridings, feeling that COVID-19 rates in urban areas should not stop their regions from returning to business as usual.
Theory Two – A need for fresh faces
Another group of Scott supporters believe the honourable member was demoted because the premier wished to put a younger, urban, and more inclusive face on the Conservative Party less than a year from the next election.
If an election was to be called today in Ontario Ford would be in a real fight to gain a second term. That’s especially true if the anti-Ford vote shows up strongly around one other party, whether Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats or Steven Del Duca’s Liberals.
Conservatives most threatened are Ford’s members from the 905 belt around Toronto and many from that region were promoted to cabinet in hopes of shoring up their chances for re-election.
One frustrated Scott supporter lamented that Scott is being punished for representing one of the safest Conservative ridings in Ontario whose member did not need the boost of being in the cabinet to get re-elected.
Theory Three – The Elliott factor
Another interesting theory being floated by at least two well-placed local Conservatives suggests that Scott has never been seen by the premier as truly part of his inner circle because of her initial support for Christine Elliott in the Conservative leadership race of 2018. Some politicians, like Ford, have been noted to never forget even the smallest slights and perhaps Scott’s fall from grace may be rooted in a decision she made almost four years ago.
The theory continues that as a tough election looms, Ford is surrounding himself with many who have been loyal to him from the start, and that does not include Scott. This may also explain the controversial decision of the premier to bring disgraced former minister Rod Phillips back into cabinet after being fired by the premier in January for leaving Ontario on vacation at the height of a pandemic for a trip to the sunny south.
For whatever reason(s) Scott has found herself out of cabinet, it will be interesting to see what decisions she makes about her political future. Her father, Bill, served a long and honourable 38 years as the quintessential backbencher, taking care of the needs of his constituents.
It is highly unlikely that Scott will return to cabinet as long as Ford is premier. After getting a taste of the power and privilege that comes with being in the inner circle, will a backbencher’s life be enough moving forward?