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Longtime labour minister leaving politics — Ford's third cabinet loss this month

Monte McNaughton has been a cabinet minister since the PCs were elected in 2018
Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Minister Monte McNaughton, backed by Premier Doug Ford, at Queen's Park on June 24, 2020.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

One day after Premier Doug Ford's stunning Greenbelt reversal, a longtime and crucial minister in his cabinet announced he’s leaving politics

Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, immigration, training and skills development, will exit the government to work outside of government.

“After much soul searching over the summer months, I have accepted a job in the private sector,” McNaughton said in a statement Friday, about an hour after Ford’s office announced his departure.

McNaughton will resign as an MPP “in the days ahead,” he said.

McNaughton’s departure marks the third cabinet minister Ford has lost in as many weeks. Steve Clark, former housing minister, and Kaleed Rasheed, former minister of public and business service delivery, resigned amidst the Greenbelt scandal.

Their exits came during a tumultuous few weeks for the Progressive Conservative government, following revelations coming in two watchdogs’ reports on what led to the decision to open up the Greenbelt to development. On Thursday, the premier apologized to Ontarians for the move, and announced his government would walk back its Greenbelt land removals.

McNaughton was notably absent from Ford’s announcement on Thursday in Niagara Falls, where most of the premier’s cabinet stood at his back as he announced the reversal.

McNaughton's exit also comes on the heels of resignations from two senior staffers in events related to the Greenbelt controversy.

Ryan Amato, Clark’s former chief of staff, resigned on Aug. 22. He was found by Ontario’s auditor general and integrity commissioner to have steered the land-selection process ahead of the Greenbelt removals, which heavily favoured developers who had access to him.

Jae Truesdell, Ford’s former director of housing policy, also resigned this week. He went on a trip with Rasheed to Las Vegas where a Greenbelt developer also was. 

Rasheed and Amin Massoudi, Ford’s principal secretary at the time of the early 2020 Vegas trip, have sought to fix incorrect information about the trip that they gave to Integrity Commissioner J. David Wake, who looked into it as part of his Greenbelt investigation after The Trillium reported on it over the summer. 

Rasheed resigned from the PC caucus as well, but is still an MPP. Clark remains a PC MPP.

The premier’s office shared the news of McNaughton’s departure on Friday, a few minutes after it was first reported by the Toronto Star

Both Ford’s and McNaughton’s statements said his decision to leave the government was unrelated to the Greenbelt scandal.

“I realize that recent events will cause some to speculate about the reasons for my departure. I want those people to know that my decision is completely unrelated to those events,” McNaughton said.

“I support Premier Ford and am proud to have served in his cabinet … I'm making this decision because it's the right one for me and my family.”

McNaughton has been involved in provincial politics for more than a decade after being elected as an MPP for Lambton–Kent–Middlesex in 2011. When the Progressive Conservatives came to power in 2018, he became the province's infrastructure minister, moving to the labour file a year later.

McNaughton was widely seen as one of Ford’s most high-profile ministers — and one of his most competent.

He’s been credited for winning support from private sector unions that had previously backed other political parties.

McNaughton is also the face of the Ford government’s “Working for Workers” brand, having passed a series of bills aimed at empowering employees in non-traditional sectors over the last few years.

In his statement, the premier acknowledged this, praising McNaughton for his work.

"I’m very grateful for Monte’s work as a key member of our team, both as minister of infrastructure and, more recently, minister of labour, immigration, training, and skills development,” Ford said.

“In the last two years alone, he introduced three separate pieces of legislation focused solely on working for workers. Monte helped build a coalition of private-sector union support that has never existed in the history of the Ontario PC Party. 

“He introduced ground-breaking measures to protect workers’ rights and ensure that more workers are in the driver’s seat of their own careers."

McNaughton was also seen by many in Conservative circles as a possible successor to Ford as PC leader. He ran in the party’s 2015 leadership election, spending almost six months campaigning before bowing out about a month before the vote that saw Patrick Brown elected party leader.

“It has been the honour of a lifetime to serve the people of Ontario as Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development for more than four years,” McNaughton said in his statement on Friday.

“I want to express my deepest gratitude to the people of Lambton–Kent–Middlesex. It has been a privilege to have represented you since 2011.”