Lankin was promoted to Minister of Health on April 22, 1991. She soon developed a reputation as one of the most proficient ministers in Rae's government, and won praise for her attention to administrative detail. She also became one of Rae's most trusted ministers, and a part of his "inner circle" .
On February 3, 1993, Lankin was shifted to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. Here, she reversed her previous opposition to spending cutbacks, and pursued policies of fiscal restraint that were unpopular with many NDP supporters. Previously a defender of universal free drug coverage for senior citizens, she now supported Finance Minister Floyd Laughren's introduction of user fees.
The Rae government was defeated in the provincial election of 1995, although Lankin was re-elected in Beaches-Woodbine by about 3,000 votes over her nearest opponent. When Rae resigned as NDP leader in 1996, she declared herself a candidate to succeed him. Lankin was regarded as the frontrunner in this race, and was strongly supported by senior members of the Rae government and the party "establishment".
However, this identification actually damaged her popularity among party delegates who were disappointed by the rightward shifts of the Rae government. Rival candidate Peter Kormos accused her in the leadership debate of bearing responsibility for the "social contract" (which forced open collective bargaining agreements with public sector unions and was deeply unpopular with labour) and for the Rae government's abandonment of a promise to institute a publicly run auto insurance system.
Lankin's actual position in relation to the "social contract" was somewhat complicated. She initially opposed the Rae government's plans to revisit existing labour contracts, and personally warned Rae of the fallout that would result from organized labour. She later considered resigning from cabinet over the issue on two separate occasions, but ultimately chose to remain because (she claimed) it would give her the opportunity to moderate the legislation. She did, in fact, replace Rae's initial plans for outright wage rollbacks with requirements that workers above a certain income level take unpaid leave days. Even in this moderated form, however, the legislation was highly unpopular and strained the NDP's relations with the labour movement.
As a result of criticisms from Kormos and others, many of Lankin's potential supporters went to rival candidate Howard Hampton, who had also been a cabinet minister in the Rae government, but was not part of Rae's "inner circle". Hampton defeated Lankin on the third ballot by fewer than 200 votes. (See Ontario CCF/NDP Leadership Conventions.)
Lankin was awarded a Queen's Jubilee Medal in February 2003. In January 2004, Lankin led the Greater Toronto United Way in its most successful fundraising campaign ever, raising $84.3 million dollars for a variety of charities. She is also a steering committee member of Equal Voice, a group which seeks to increase the number of women in Canadian politics. She is also an honorary director of the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance, which develops international marketing strategies for the region.
|- |Frances Lankin |align="right"| 10,862 |align="right"| 42.4 |align="right"| -16.0 |- |Lynda Buffett |align="right"| 7,923 |align="right"| 30.9 |align="right"| +16.6 |- |Stephen Lautens |align="right"| 6,158 |align="right"| 24.1 |align="right"| -1.6 |- |Brad Allen |align="right"| 319 |align="right"| 1.2 |align="right"| - |- |Miguel Figueroa |align="right"| 169 |align="right"| 0.7 |align="right"| - |- |Donalda G. Fredeen |align="right"| 162 |align="right"| 0.6 |align="right"| - |- |}
|- |Frances Lankin |align="right"| 14,381 |align="right"| 58.4 |align="right"| - |- |Beryl Potter |align="right"| 6,329 |align="right"| 25.7 |align="right"| - |- |Kevin Forest |align="right"| 3,535 |align="right"| 14.3 |align="right"| - |- |Sam Vitulli |align="right"| 400 |align="right"| 1.6 |align="right"| - |- |}