Even before the 2007 election campaign began, Robert Ghiz was forced to take a stand on patronage.
Larry McGuire, nominated as a Liberal candidate in Morell-Mermaid, gave an acceptance speech that strongly suggested Tories would be out of government positions with a new Liberal government, replaced by loyal Liberals. After a short delay, Ghiz announced he would not be signing McGuire's nomination papers.
The incident brought patronage to the forefront of the election campaign.
Ghiz was holding the high ground when the campaign started. He had rejected a candidate who supported patronage, and Premier Pat Binns had paid out $1.6 million to people claiming political discrimination.
Ghiz pushed his advantage.
"A new government must ensure that our public service is freed from political taint," he said on the campaign trail in May 2007.
"Vacancies for all full-time appointments to boards and agencies will be publicly advertised. At the broadest policy level hiring and promotion will be based on merit, so that there is no doubt that those that can do the job will do the job."
Human rights education
The Liberals promised to hire a human rights education officer to help inform Islanders of their rights. The government gave the commission an extra $70,000 a year, but didn't tell them how to spend it.
After the election Ghiz set up a service called Participate in P.E.I., a web site where Islanders can see which boards, agencies and commissions exist. Through the web site you can apply online to be considered for a position with one of the 75 groups.
The decision about who to appoint still rests with cabinet, and there is evidence not all people being considered are applying through Participate in P.E.I.
In February 2008, six Liberals were appointed to the Workers Compensation Board Appeals Tribunal, some of whom didn't even apply for the job. The board of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission also has two prominent Liberals on it, Allan Rankin and John Broderick.
Premier Binns had made changes to government hiring practices, in particular in connection to seasonal hires. Ghiz extended that with Participate in P.E.I., but does not appear to have eliminated patronage.
Ghiz did appoint one high profile Progressive Conservative to a prominent position. Pat Mella was apppointed by Ghiz to oversee the implementation of kindergarten into the public school system.
While leader of the opposition Robert Ghiz was critical of the government practice of appointing backbench MLAs to executive council committees.
Executive council committees
- Treasury Board.
- Strategic Planning.
- Legislative Review.
- Policy Board.
The appointments came with a $5,800 salary bonus. Ghiz argued the backbenchers played no useful role on the committees, and called the salary bonus a "clapping fee."
Ghiz said if he was elected he would eliminate the appointment of backbench MLAs to those committees, but he only went part way.
The size of committees has been reduced. Previously every backbencher had a committee position, but that is no longer the case. Backbench MLAs now take the positions on a rotating basis.
At the same time the salary bonus has increased to $6,000. That amount is set by the Indemnities and Allowances Commission.
The Liberal campaign in 2007 promised to produce several reports, with mixed results.
The government failed to deliver a 10-year plan for public transit.
P.E.I. is still the only province without a provincial ombudsman, despite a Liberal promise to appoint one.
A promise to begin comprehensive planning for a P.E.I. museum may yet be delivered. About $80,000 was spent on a study, and a report may be released during the campaign.
After claiming a small surplus reported by the previous government was in fact a large deficit, the Liberals promised to require the auditor general to produce audited statements for government three months before an election. That report was released five weeks before the election.