Liberal Leader Robert Ghiz

The man who has been premier of Prince Edward Island for four years was nervous on his first day of school, he was nervous on his first day of university, when he started his first job and when he was elected as an MLA, but he was not nervous the day he walked into the premier's office.
A gavel made for Robert Ghiz's father, Joe Ghiz, when he was premier returned to the cabinet table when the younger Ghiz took on the position in 2007. (CBC)

The man who has been premier of Prince Edward Island for four years was nervous on his first day of school, he was nervous on his first day of university, when he started his first job and when he was elected as an MLA, but he was not nervous the day he walked into the premier's office.

"This was the most comfortable change I've ever gone through in my life," says Ghiz.

"I was ready for it."

Ghiz says his four years as leader of the opposition prepared him for the role, but there may have been more to it than that. It was not Ghiz's first time in the premier's office. His father Joe was premier from 1986-93.

Ghiz remembers the office from his youth. Some of the furniture was even the same. Shortly after he won the 2007 election a family friend gave the new premier a gavel made for Joe Ghiz when he was premier. Ghiz Sr. used it to preside over cabinet meetings. That gavel was stored during the Tory years, but came back to the cabinet table when the younger Ghiz followed in his father's footsteps.

Premier at 33

It was a quick rise to power for the then 33-year-old Ghiz, but one he started preparing for not long after leaving high school in Charlottetown.

Quick Facts

Born: Jan. 21, 1974

Education: Graduate of Colonel Gray high in Charlottetown. Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Bishops University in Lennoxville, Que

Employment: Joined the Prime Minister's Office in 2001 as an adviser for the Atlantic provinces. He also worked for former federal heritage minister Sheila Copps as a special assistant, and for the Bank Of Nova Scotia.

Politics: Became leader of P.E.I. Opposition Sep. 29, 2003. Elected premier May 28, 2007.

Extra: An avid sports fan, Ghiz plays hockey, basketball and golf.

Family: Married Dr. Kate Ellis, June 2006. They have two children. He has one sister, Joanne.

Attending Bishop's University in Quebec, he changed his major from English to political science. His first political job was in the office of Liberal MP Sheila Copps. He went from there to work for the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1998, and in 2001 returned to political work in the Prime Minister's Office as an advisor for the Atlantic provinces.

But he was not there for long. In the fall of 2002 Ghiz moved back to P.E.I. and the rumours began. While he did not announce his plans to run for the Liberal leadership until February of 2003, Ghiz says now he was working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, building his knowledge base and meeting the people he would need to know to make his ambitions possible.

He was made leader in April, and that September he was in his first election campaign. Ghiz's party had won 31 of 32 seats under Catherine Callbeck in 1993, but by 2003 the situation was reversed, with the Liberals holding a single seat. In addition to leading a party that was a shadow of its former self, Ghiz was facing off against a former Charlottetown mayor in his own district.

Ghiz came out of the September 2003 election with something he could build on: his own seat and three others for the Liberal party. He went into the May 2007 election a clear underdog. There did not appear at the time to be any government-threatening issue clinging to Premier Pat Binns.

Still, Ghiz says he was confident a strong campaign could win him the government. The Liberals came out in organized fashion, running a series of news conferences on different themes, laying out their policies.

By mid-campaign it was clear the tables were turning. The Progressive Conservatives began to make hasty promises - for a convention centre, a new junior high school - while the Liberals continued with the course they had set the first week of the campaign.

Ghiz says his years as opposition leader prepared him for the role of premier. (CBC)

Ghiz was on his way to a surprising victory.

"It was a big win. It was probably a little bigger than we anticipated," he says.

On election night the parties flipped positions, with Tories reduced to just four seats.

'Things pop on your plate'

Not long after his election win Ghiz hosted a conference of eastern premiers and New England governors.

During a chat with Jean Charest, the Quebec premier offered him this warning.

"Things change every day. Things pop on your plate," Ghiz recalls Charest saying.

"You'll wake up every day, they'll be something in the news and you didn't even know your government was involved in it."

While Ghiz was learning to deal with surprises in his work life, his personal life was also going through dramatic changes. He entered politics in 2003 a single man. He married Dr. Kate Ellis in 2006 while still opposition leader. Since becoming premier two daughters have joined the family, Elizabeth in 2009 and Emma just this year.

Ghiz says his family life has changed his approach to work.

"If I was right now rewinding I probably wouldn't get into politics," he says.

Gone are the days of working 14 hours a day seven days a week, a schedule that was easy enough to keep when he was single. After he got married he reduced his evening work to five or six days a week. It's now down to three.

Ghiz was only 33 years old when he became premier in 2007. (CBC)

"I couldn't put in the amount of hours I first put in when I went into politics," says Ghiz.

He admits that may disappoint some Islanders, who expect to see their politicians at everything, but he says family life helps to stabilize him as well. His home is a place where he steps away from work.

"If I'm there with the kids I'm not going to watch the news. Because if there's something on there that's upsetting what's the point of ruining the atmosphere at home?" he says.


Ghiz comes into this election in a very different situation compared to 2007, as both the government and the favourite to win.

In 2007 Ghiz expressed some frustration with the constantly negative role he had played in opposition.

"We're looking forward to getting to an election where we're able to present our platform on how we would do things different," he said at the time.

While Ghiz is looking forward to running on his record, he is also aware that running on your record has its down side.

"No government, no good government, can not annoy some portion of the population," says Ghiz.

"So there's also that to deal with."

His comment echoes one he made in 2007, while criticizing Binns for being more interested in being popular than governing well.

"It's impossible to please everyone all the time. What you have to do is try to make the best possible decisions for the entire Island population," he said.

Parties need to govern well to be re-elected, but they also need to be popular. Ghiz will find out in early October how well he has struck that balance.