Pembroke – Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski is taking on a new role at Queen’s Park as parliamentary assistant to the premier.
“It is certainly a little different to be the parliamentary assistant to the premier because he is the head of government, so I will be involved in a lot of different things,” the MPP said while in the riding this week.
The announcement was made early in the week and Mr. Yakabuski said he was looking forward to the new role, especially since this is a crucial time for the Ford government.
“We are in the last year,” he said. “So, I am pleased and honoured Premier Ford asked me.”
It’s been a tumultuous time for Premier Ford with COVID occupying much of his energy during his first mandate and the first time the Progressive Conservative Party has been in power for over a decade. When the Conservatives were voted in after many sittings of Liberal rule in the province they had an ambitious agenda. Then COVID hit.
With Ontario moving into Step 3 of the re-opening plan this week and the push for vaccination continuing, the reigning Conservatives have had a challenging year and a half dealing with COVID. Now there is less than a year left to go in the mandate with a fixed election date set for next summer. The date is June 2, 2022, which is just a week shy of four years since the Conservatives were elected.
“We are at 10 months before the campaign,” Mr. Yakabuski said.
Mr. Yakabuski said he is looking forward to his new role and working with Premier Ford. It is an important time in government in the last year of the mandate and he knows there will be key decisions ahead.
“I’ve always worked closely with him,” he said. “We will now have more conversations than we had otherwise.”
Since forming part of the government, the MPP served as Minister of Transportation for a short time then a longer period as Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry. This new position is a broader look at government dealing with not just one ministry but assisting the premier in all aspects of government.
“I’ve never been a parliamentary assistant before,” he noted. “My dad (the late Paul Yakabuski) was.”
He knows the next year until the election will be busy ones. As well, when the legislature returns in the fall it will be for a busy session continuing to deal with government priorities and the changing face of Ontario with the changes COVID brought.
“This is going into an involved and hectic time,” he said. “It will be the last sitting before the election.”
Mr. Yakabuski, who has been re-elected by an impressive majority time after time, is already getting ready for the June election. He anticipates with the greater opening planned for Ontario and less COVID restrictions it will be possible for people to have more gatherings and events, including campaign events. However, the caveat remains vaccination and reaching a higher level of immunity.
“We are hoping everyone gets that second dose,” he said. “Inevitably as the fall and winter rolls in viruses have a way of rolling in. So, I am encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.”
The Ford government has been working hard to re-open Ontario, he stressed.
“It’s always been our desire to get open as much as possible as quickly as possible and balance it with the reality COVID has ebbed and flowed three different times already.”
Like others, he admitted he never would have envisioned something like this pandemic or how it has affected Ontario in the heady days when the Conservatives came to power just over three years ago.
For now, Mr. Yakabuski will continue to share time between Toronto and his Barry’s Bay home and the pull to Toronto will increase with his new duties.
“It’s always back and forth to Toronto,” he said. “I still expect to have more time in the riding than I did when I was a minister.”
The MPP hopes Ontarians will enjoy the new freedoms of Step 3 and be able to gather safely with loved ones.
“It is a big bonus in the summer to open and have the bigger numbers,” he said.
As for his own family, they are looking forward to having a chance to meet their 12th grandchild, a little girl born on July 1, Canada Day.
According to the government website, the parliamentary assistant will support the premier with legislative and committee matters, including special projects and assignments that require dedicated leadership. They also play a key role in building relationships and communicating government initiatives across the province.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader