Premier Kathleen Wynne is suffering the loss of a key member of her cabinet with the surprise departure of Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray, the Star has learned.
Murray, 59, who has been out of the country and was unavailable for comment, will announce Monday at Queen’s Park that he is set to resign from provincial politics.
The Toronto Centre MPP, also a former mayor of Winnipeg and one-time Star columnist, has been Wynne’s point person on climate change.
He will step down immediately from cabinet, forcing the premier to do a minor shuffle of her executive council on Monday morning, but will remain as an MPP for a few more weeks to wind down some local constituency business.
However, his resignation will not trigger a byelection in what has been a traditionally safe Liberal seat both provincially and federally — his seatmate is federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
That’s because under Ontario law, a byelection must be called within six months of a vacancy unless a province-wide election is imminent.
With voters going to the polls on June 7, 2018, there was concern about Elections Ontario spending an estimated $500,000 to conduct a byelection.
Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal party matters, said Murray is leaving for a high-profile job outside politics. His successor as environment minister was not immediately known.
Internationally respected on environmental issues, he was first elected in a February 2010 byelection after then-deputy premier George Smitherman left to run for mayor of Toronto and lost to Rob Ford.
Former premier Dalton McGuinty elevated Murray to cabinet just six months later where he served as minister of research and innovation. After the 2011 election, he was promoted to minister of training, colleges, and universities.
The new premier rewarded him for his timely endorsement, which gave her campaign momentum, by making him transportation and infrastructure minister in February 2013.
Following her majority victory in June 2014, Wynne moved him to the Ministry of the Environment and added “Climate Change” to his title to underscore its importance as Ontario was joining Quebec and California in a cap-and-trade system.
In a move some Liberals felt demonstrated petulance, Murray responded to being shuffled by taking to Twitter that June 25 and saying: “Today it sunk in the last election was my last.”
“Promised that if I couldn’t make a difference in 8 or 10 years I couldn’t make a difference,” the minister tweeted more than three years ago.
“First openly gay person elected in Canada. I have to thank Winnipeggers for electing me councillor and mayor and TO for electing me MPP and minister,” he continued.
“Minister of Environment in Ontario is the best political position I have ever had the privilege to hold. I was not demoted. Kathleen Wynne put me in a position where I can fight to ensure we can survive climate change.”
While his prophecy turned out to be true, Murray had indicated to allies more recently that he planned to run again next year, so his exit is blindsiding the governing Liberals.
A strong performer in the legislature, where he usually deflects opposition questions skilfully, he has emerged as one of Wynne’s better known ministers.
Last month, Murray announced the government would spend $85 million to clean up the mercury-poisoned Wabigoon River that has poisoned people of the Grassy Narrows First Nation and the Whitedog First Nation for decades.
“I have never seen a case of such gross neglect. I am embarrassed as a Canadian that this ever happened and I can’t understand how people for 50 years sat in that environment office knowing this was going on as a minister and simply didn’t do anything about it,” he told the Star on June 27.
In 2016, Murray unveiled the government’s ambitious five-year, $8.3-billion plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which included a push for motorists to park their gas and diesel cars and replace them with electric vehicles.
As part of the climate change strategy, gasoline prices rose by 4.3 cents a litre and natural gas bills by an average of $5 a month, some of which was offset by incentive programs to encourage conservation.
Yet Murray stared down critics, warning the price of doing nothing to curb greenhouse gas emissions was far more costly, and that Ontarians appreciate the gravity of the situation.
“People are very concerned about their children and the kind of planet they’re going up on and they want to do know to do,” he said last year.