TORONTO – Premier Dalton McGuinty will be more involved in the ongoing talks to save Ontario’s ailing auto industry as one of his key ministers, Michael Bryant, departs for a plum job at a new corporation tasked with attracting investment to Toronto.
Bryant, who will step down as economic development minister on Monday, is leaving politics to take on a similar role as president and CEO of Invest Toronto, McGuinty announced Saturday.
“Michael has always tackled each new role with his trademark enthusiasm, intelligence and energy,” he said in a statement.
“I know Michael will bring the same level of passion, insight and commitment to his new role with Invest Toronto that he has brought to the provincial government.”
Bryant, 43, has been Ontario’s point man in the auto talks, and news of his departure comes as General Motors heads into a crucial week of last-minute dealmaking to qualify for billions of dollars in government loans.
The company has until June 1 to present its restructuring plans to stave off financial collapse.
McGuinty, who has also been involved in the auto talks, will be taking over Bryant’s portfolio temporarily.
Sources say McGuinty wants to ensure that negotiations between the U.S. and Canadian governments over GM proceed smoothly, and will be leading provincial efforts to restructure the troubled automaker with the help of Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.
However, observers predict McGuinty will find someone else to replace Bryant and shuffle his cabinet sometime this summer, likely after the legislature rises on June 4.
The colourful and outspoken minister, who plans to give up his Toronto seat, told McGuinty on Friday that he’d found a new job.
“I’m excited to begin new duties with Invest Toronto after resigning as MPP for St. Paul’s in the coming weeks,” Bryant said in a statement Saturday.
“I’m honoured to have served the people of St. Paul’s under the incredible leadership of the premier, for the past 10 years. I look forward to an announcement with Mayor David Miller about my future plans with Invest Toronto on Monday.”
Bryant had long been considered a top contender to succeed McGuinty, despite his sometimes frosty relations with the premier.
His brash, attention-getting style didn’t always go over well with his boss, and news of his hasty departure from cabinet immediately raised questions about whether the relationship had permanently soured.
Bryant raised eyebrows earlier this month when he trumpeted his vision for a stronger government role in business, a so-called “reverse Reaganism” plan that would have Ontario picking “winners and losers” on a case-by-case basis.
The speech, delivered to a business audience, was laden with new buzzwords like “econofix,” “Obamanomics,” “supra-ideological,” and “uber-entrepreneurs” – perplexing some observers and economists.
A few days later, McGuinty tried to temper those remarks, saying he was leery of picking specific companies to support.
Bryant always had an innovative, media-savvy style, and will likely return to politics once he’s made a name for himself in business circles, said politics professor Henry Jacek of Hamilton’s McMaster University.
“He’s not an ordinary type of politician and never has been,” he said.
“Ministers are sort of conventional team players – they’re competent, some of them have their quirks, but for the most part, they go along and they basically are good team players. Not that Bryant wasn’t, but he always liked to try unconventional things.”
As the province’s youngest attorney general in 2004, Bryant grabbed headlines by launching a public crusade to ban pit bulls.
When he was shuffled to aboriginal affairs after the 2007 provincial election, he took on the job with gusto, tackling the recommendations of the Ipperwash inquiry and brokering a $2-billion agreement with First Nations over gaming revenues.
Last year, he went to Caledonia to plead for patience and understanding in a series of YouTube videos aimed at defusing simmering tensions over a two-year aboriginal occupation of a disputed piece of land.
The premier has repeated his intention to stay on for the 2011 provincial election, which may have thwarted Bryant’s ambitions, Jacek said.
“I could see how maybe he was getting a little antsy and maybe seeing that he’d rather be running his own show somewhere,” he said.
There are fears that McGuinty may lose more cabinet stars, such as Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman. Many expect Smitherman to contest Miller in the next mayoral election, even though he has repeatedly denied that he wants the mayor’s job.
“If you are a political leader and you are popular and can win election after election, what it means is that the brightest people underneath you are going to look for some other place where they can make their mark,” Jacek said.
“They don’t want to spend a long period of time, when they are very talented, in the shadow of somebody else.”
Bryant’s departure likely won’t hurt McGuinty, who has attracted strong backbenchers who could be elevated to cabinet, he added.
Bryant will be replacing John Macintyre at Invest Toronto, a new economic development corporation that’s tasked with developing the city’s extensive real estate holdings and promoting investment through marketing and trade missions.
Born and raised in Victoria, B.C., Bryant was educated at the University of British Columbia, Osgoode Hall Law School and Harvard University. He practised law in Toronto, clerked at the Supreme Court of Canada, and taught law and politics at the University of Toronto, Osgoode Hall, and King’s College in London, England.
He and his wife, entertainment lawyer Susan Abramovitch, have two young children, Sadie and Louis.