After dealing with a devasting forest fire season that blazed a swath through Northern Ontario, Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek is on the move.
As announced Monday morning (Nov. 5), Yurek fared prominently in Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet shuffle that sees him replace John Yakabuski as Minister of Transportation. Yakabuski, in turn, will assume Yurek’s previous post as Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, a position he took on after Ford swept into power in June of this year.
The cabinet tweaking, involving a half-dozen MPPs, was necessitated by the resignation last Friday of Economic Development Minister Jim Wilson who, according to Ford, stepped down to deal with an addiction issue related to alcohol.
Global News and other media outlets have since reported allegations of sexual misconduct prompted Wilson’s sudden resignation.
Yurek is not stepping into his new role devoid of relevant experience.
He noted four or five years ago, he was the Ministry of Transportation critic although, as minister, he faces a steep learning curve dealing with a high-profile portfolio.
“I was informed last night (Sunday) that we’d be having a swearing-in ceremony and that I would becoming the Minister of Transportation,” advised Yurek, “and I was needed to be in Toronto first thing in the morning.
“We’re learning our portfolios as we speak and we’re going to be working for the people of Ontario continually. It’s not going to slow down. I’m going to have to work a little bit harder in the short term to get caught up, but the ministry and our plan of action are going to continue.”
The move comes just as Yurek was settling into his first cabinet minister posting.
“It was a quick study this past summer learning the portfolio of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. That’s not lost. It’s still going to be utilized around the cabinet table. There are 21 of us who sit and discuss issues and now I’m another educated voice at the table to help the new ministers out on their decisions going forward.
“Now, at the same time, I’ve got a bunch of books in the back of my truck that I’ll be reading for the rest of this week and doing a lot of phone calling to get up to speed when we return to the legislature (next week).”
“I just took the phone call and, thankfully, it was a phone call to keep me in cabinet . . .”
That gearing up period will have Yurek addressing issues close to home base including the hotly debated $500-million bus rapid transit (BRT) proposal in London.
“With the BRT in London, obviously they have a new council in place and it was a contentious election issue. We’ll wait and see how the new council comes out with the issue before it. The ministry and I are willing to continue the conversation with the city.”
Then there’s the high-speed rail undertaking, to link Windsor and London with Toronto, promised by the previous Kathleen Wynne government.
“If you look at high-speed rail,” advised Yurek, “there’s currently consultation going on and our decision is going to be based on information collected from consultation and also the environmental studies. We’re going to ensure the voice of rural Ontario is part of that conversation.”
And he inherits a program of safety upgrades on Highway 401, involving installation of median barriers west of London.
“The process is on-going right now,” he explained. “They’re putting up cable barriers right now, but at the same time, they are starting the environmental assessment to expand the 401 to six lanes and, at the same time, put in the cement barrier and we have to put in a sewage system. I told my ministry today that I would like to do that as quickly as possible.”
In the Windsor area, there is the election promise to widen Highway 3 to four lanes through Essex.
Yurek concedes, “I haven’t had all my briefings yet, but I’m sure that will pass across my desk to see where it’s at. I haven’t seen that one yet.”
Better transportation options for rural municipalities, especially in southwestern Ontario, are prominent on Yurek’s radar.
“I want to deal with regional networks and how rural Ontario is interacting with London. There’s no reason why we can’t be better connected and that’s a conversation I would like to have with the municipalities to see how we can work together to improve that type of transportation between smaller municipalities and the larger city of London.
He continued, “It works both ways. We can access more services in London that aren’t available in rural Ontario. But, at the same time, it’s going to give access to people in London to come shop and spend money in our area. I think it’s a win-win situation. It’s a start to have that conversation to see where we go and what’s the best measures to go forward with that.”
As a pharmacist, are there regrets he wasn’t considered for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care?
“I wasn’t part of that discussion. I just took the phone call and, thankfully, it was a phone call to keep me in cabinet and I look forward to working as Minister of Transportation.”
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