PEI Premier Robert Ghiz’s decision to walk away from politics, at least for now, was unexpected.
He leaves the stage this weekend at the age of 41 and Prince Edward Island’s Liberal Party still commands a large majority in the legislature after his 12 years in office.
That’s leaving some wondering whether this is a political hiatus or a retirement.
For Ghiz, an election this year led him to consider whether he still has the drive a politician needs on the campaign trail.
“Why go? One thing, fire in the belly,” Ghiz said in an interview. “That’s on the road, every single night, going to nominations or going to fundraisers, or going to events. Three young kids at home too. It’s not easy to be on the road every single night for a year straight.”
Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island and a keen observer of Canadian politics, doesn’t think the country has seen the last of Ghiz as a politician.
“I’d be amazed if he didn’t find something that brought him into more of a national profile,” he said.
Ghiz is a friend of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s, but he has already ruled out running in the next federal election. He is planning to take about six months off to spend time with his family and consider his options.
“Sometimes taking time off you rest up and you’ll get excited again about things and maybe I’ll want to get involved sometime down the road,” he said. “But in the short term, definitely not.”
The Ghiz family name is a respected one in Island politics. Robert has continued the Ghiz legacy, started when his father Joe served as a popular premier from 1986 to 1993.
The younger Ghiz is leaving pleased with his time in office.
“I’m happy with the last 12 years,” he said, citing among his accomplishments changes in education that include the introduction of a full-day kindergarten program and a new bursary to help Islanders pay for university and college.
Governing through a recession was difficult, he said, and that led to unpopular decisions like closing some schools and introducing the harmonized sales tax. “I believe that we made good public policy decisions that may not have been the best political decisions, but I think they get respected in the long run,” Ghiz said.
Desserud described Ghiz as a cautious premier who didn’t try the kinds of big fixes that have led to the downfall of other premiers.
But there have also been some controversies that dogged Ghiz’s tenure, Desserud said, such as the provincial nominee program to boost immigration to the province.
Three former government employees raised allegations of fraud and bribery involving senior government officials who administered the immigrant investor program. The RCMP investigated but no charges were laid.
“The provincial nominee program is still an issue that people are concerned about and there is still some mystery surrounding exactly what happened and who was involved,” Desserud said.
The government’s decision to reroute the Trans-Canada Highway through forest lands also upset environmentalists in the province.
Ghiz will be replaced as Liberal leader Saturday afternoon by Wade MacLauchlan. The former president of the University Prince Edward Island is the only person who sought to replace Ghiz and is scheduled to be sworn in as premier on Monday.