Lalonde takes on corrections portfolio
Ontario’s new Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services says she will apply her social worker experience to the job
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has appointed her third corrections minister in seven months after the surprise resignation of David Orazietti from the troubled portfolio in December.
In a Thursday morning ceremony marking a minor cabinet shuffle, Marie-France Lalonde moved from the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, where she had presided since June, to Community Safety and Correctional Services.
The province’s new chief jailer takes over a portfolio that has bounced from crisis to crisis over the past 18 months. The ministry is grappling with a dysfunctional new superjail in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke, continuing fallout at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre over the use of shower stalls as cells, constant labour unrest, understaffing and, most recently, startling revelations about the mistreatment of inmates in solitary confinement.
Ms. Lalonde, whose riding of Ottawa-Orléans includes the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, leaned on her past as a social worker to answer reporters’ questions on Thursday.
“I had the great pleasure of addressing some of the concerns of inmates and individuals with mental health in my former life, I can say. I think this portfolio will bring that aspect of my career before politics,” she said.
The ministry hit a less turbulent period after Mr. Orazietti took over last June. But in October, the revelation that Adam Capay, a young indigenous inmate awaiting trial and in declining mental health, had been languishing in an acrylicglass-lined segregation cell for four years rocked the ministry.
Initially, Mr. Orazietti called it an administrative matter. A day later, he announced that Mr. Capay’s conditions would be improved – that he would be moved to a cell with dimmable lights and would have access to a day room and a shower.
Mr. Orazietti sometimes struggled to handle communications when he found himself in the hot seat. On one occasion, when a reporter asked who was to blame for the poor conditions at the Thunder Bay Jail, he said: “I know you want to place blame. I’m not placing blame on anyone. … I know you want to place blame and I know that’s the way you want to write some of the articles that you want to write.” He then stormed off.
The Capay controversy began to subside after Mr. Orazietti appointed respected former federal prisons ombudsman Howard Sapers to head up a review of solitary confinement and boosted the number of staff working directly with segregated inmates.
But on Dec. 16, the day after a mentally ill inmate in segregation died at the Central East Correctional Centre in Lindsay, Ont., Mr. Orazietti, 48, announced his retirement from politics.
Ms. Wynne placed Kevin Flynn on the file on an interim basis before announcing Ms. Lalonde’s appointment.
“I think we all agree, as the Premier said, that the conditions of [Mr. Capay’s] segregation were unacceptable,” Ms. Lalonde said Thursday. “We have already made some commitments to change those.”
Ms. Wynne also made a few other tweaks to her cabinet to highlight small business, seniors’ affairs and women’s issues.
The Premier opted to hive off a piece of the economic development ministry and hand it to Agriculture Minister Jeff Leal. Mr. Leal will now be in charge of small business as well as his current duties.
Mr. Leal said the most recent change was made because Mr. Duguid needs more time to steer Ontario’s trade with the United States in light of president-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to renegotiate NAFTA. Mr. Trump’s move could slam the province’s manufacturing sector, particularly auto makers. Mr. Leal added it had nothing to do with Mr. Duguid’s health – the hard-charging minister suffered a heart attack last year.
“It goes without saying that with the new administration that will be entering the White House on Jan. 20. … President Trump talked about various issues related to NAFTA and the TPP, and that will take a lot of focus of Minister Duguid’s time,” Mr. Leal said.
Ms. Wynne also upgraded Women’s Issues into a full portfolio and put Indira NaidooHarris in charge. Ms. NaidooHarris will also retain her Child Care portfolio. She faces the twin tasks of implementing Ms. Wynne’s promise to create 100,000 more child-care spaces over five years and tackling the province’s gender wage gap.
Tracy MacCharles, who was previously in charge of Women’s Issues, will replace Ms. Lalonde in Government and Consumer Services.
She previously held the consumer services portion of the portfolio from 2013 to 2014. She will be tasked with steering legislation on payday loans, doorto-door sales and home inspections.
The Premier further expanded Dipika Damerla’s seniors’ affairs portfolio to a full ministry; previously, Ms. Damerla had been responsible for co-ordinating seniors’ issues across other government departments.
Marie-France Lalonde takes over the Corrections portfolio, which was vacated by David Orazietti in December, as part of a cabinet shuffle announced by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Thursday.