Image courtesy of PEI Gov
Image courtesy of PEI Gov

Originally published on Nov. 21st 2014.

By Drew MacEachern

Premier Robert Ghiz shocked the Province last week with his announcement that he will be resigning as Premier as soon as the Liberal leadership convention picks its next leader. I had the chance to sit down the Premier one last time and ask him some questions about the announcement and his reflections on life during his time in office.

Cadre: How do you feel the media has covered the news of your resignation?

Ghiz: “I try not to pay too much attention to it but you can’t help but read the paper and watch a little bit of the news. So far, I think it has been pretty fair. But you know, usually when you’re leaving, it’s not classy, so to speak, to kick somebody on their way out the door. But having said that, I think everything I’ve read has been fair. Yes, there are a lot of positives but there are also some negatives and that is to be expected. The one thing I can say for sure is that I’m definitely looking forward to not having to wake up in the morning and worry about what’s on the front page of the paper or watch the news at night and worry about what’s on the news.”

Cadre: How would you respond to criticisms of your decision to resign before the end of your term?

Ghiz: “It’s my prerogative, and within our democracy you’ve got to wait to a certain time so that a smooth transition can take place. So even if I did run one more time and step down a year after, people would still complain that there are still three years to go. There’s never a perfect time. This is a timeframe that I’ve had picked for a while; I did a gut check to see if maybe I did want to run for a third term, give it a try, but when I did the gut check it just wasn’t there. So I might as well go out at a time when hopefully I can allow some continuity to exist within our party and also for our province.”

Cadre: What was the best aspect and the worst aspect of the job?

Ghiz: “I guess the best aspect was helping to make a difference. Whether or not you look at bringing in a catastrophic drug program or early childhood education, [or the] residency program in the province now which is helping out young doctors, or something as simple as someone calling and needing help navigating their way through the provincial government system, helping people was probably the best aspect.

I guess the worst aspect I would say would be disappointing people. Whenever you make a decision, there are always going to be people who are upset. So you look at, you have to close some small schools and there are going to be people who are upset. You need to build a highway, and there are going to be people who are upset. You don’t run in politics to upset people. You run in politics to make improvements, but regardless of what the decision is that you make you’re never going to get 100 per cent agreement on it. Perhaps some of your biggest rewards are in making some good tough decisions. You know the toughest part is dealing with people who aren’t happy with those decisions.”

Cadre: How difficult is it to maintain a division between your private and public life?

Ghiz: “In PEI, it’s hard. I think the whole thing goes together. Anywhere that I go in the province, I was still the Premier and that’s good and bad. I think its good; that’s why you see a higher voter turnout here in the province of PEI because people are more connected to their politicians, they tend to know them more, they see them at Maid Marian’s, or the hockey rink, or the soccer field. So from that perspective, it was very hard to do the divide. But I was very fortunate – Islanders are extremely polite. Yes, there is always going to be a small fraction of the population that may not be nice, but 99.8% of the population of the Island is extremely polite, generous, and kind. When I’ve been out with my kids, I don’t even know if I can think of one instance where someone has been rude. Yes, you get approached, but Islanders are extremely kind and it has been an absolute pleasure.”

Cadre: What major issue would you like to see your successors to the Premiership pursue?

Ghiz: “I’m going to say a couple of different areas. One is around the economic development that we’re doing in the province right now. There are a lot of files that are still going on in business development [in terms of] different companies looking to expand here in the province, different companies looking to move to the province, and I want to see that continue.

And secondly is the reforms we have made in education. You’re not going to turn around your education system overnight. It’s a long term investment and I’ll give the previous government credit. Back in 2006, when our test scores were low, they issued the Kurial Report which made recommendations on what we should be doing to turn things around. That’s, what, eight or nine years ago, and we are starting to see some improvements now. But if someone says “Oh no, things aren’t working; let’s start all over again”, well, we’re another eight or nine years away. There’s no point throwing out that Kurial Report and saying everything that we’re doing is wrong. I’d like to see [them] continue on with the improvements because we have seen improvements and if we [stop seeing improvements], that is the time to re-evaluate things. But don’t throw out something until you’ve had the chance to do it and see those decisions come to fruition.”

Cadre: What advice would you give to someone considering a career in politics?

Ghiz: “Great question. Being through it right now, I would say it is an extremely rewarding profession, but at the same time there are a lot of demands. You need to be able to find the balance in terms of the demands that are out there and what you’re able to deliver. So I think that some of the advice I give, when I speak to students especially, about going into politics is that you need to be respectful of everyone’s opinion. There are going to be some opinions that you may not agree with, or they may not agree with yours, and it’s important to respect those opinions. I’ve always tried to keep an open ear. Yes, I’ll make a decision that will disappoint people but I always try to hear both sides of the argument. I’ve had meetings in my office with Peter Bevan-Baker [Green Party Leader] and we have great discussions and that’s really what it’s about. It’s about debating the policies in our society and hearing both aspects of it. No one is right about everything and I think that balance is extremely important. The second point I would say is the word compromise. People that have black and white attitudes on issues are never going to get anywhere. You need to realize that there is a grey area with everything and be willing to adapt your opinion to mesh with another opinion. If you’re not willing to do that sometimes, its going to be difficult. Now sometimes you’re going to have to make a decision, but a lot of the time compromise is a very strong attribute to have.”