The education of Robert Ghiz
Ian Dowbiggin | Sept. 09
It's said Islanders view politics as a blood sport. If so, they should just love the gore being spilled during the Ontario provincial election, which was called the same day as P.E.I.’s.
Islanders should also pay close attention to that election because it's a reasonably accurate preview of what they'll see the next time the writ is dropped here.
This time, Islanders can sit back and enjoy the provincial election. But they shouldn’t mistake it for the genuine article. The Liberals are really gunning for the next round – when they’ll really go for the jugular. This election's to get Robert Ghiz battle-ready for the dogfight about three and a half years from now.
But the similarities between the P.E.I. and Ontario elections don't end with the timing.
For years the opposition parties in Ontario waited impatiently for the popular Mike Harris to step down as premier. Oh sure, they fought the last Ontario election valiantly. But they knew they were up against a very popular politician they had little chance of defeating.
When Ernie Eves became premier last March, the knives came out. The Ontario Liberals, now convinced they stand a good chance of toppling the Tories, are gunning for Eves. With Harris gone, years of pent-up fury are being unleashed.
Any of this sound familiar? It should. Ghiz finds himself in the same position as the Ontario Liberals in 1999: trying to dethrone a popular premier. Like most of his party, in his heart of hearts he doesn't really believe he can do it.
In the meantime, Ghiz will chalk this election up to experience. To the campaign he brings welcome spirit and energy. He's helping to erase the memories of Wayne Carew's unfortunate quest for power in 2000. He even got Alan Buchanan to appear publicly with him in Summerside. The huge rifts in the Liberal Party that were on graphic display last spring look as if they're gradually closing. Ghiz is off to a good start.
But his schooling in provincial politics is just beginning. The Robert Ghiz we see right now on the hustings is still a work in progress. Remember, this is a 29-year-old who only a year ago was a parliamentary aide to Jean Chretien. Unless political smarts are genetic, he has a lot to learn. Good advice and handling can only go so far.
The Tories are watching Ghiz closely. Over the next few weeks he'll receive a tough and accelerated education in the school of hard knocks. Everything points to the Tories and the premier ditching their Perry Como-like political style. They'll throw a lot of time and money into the battle between Ghiz and mayor George MacDonald in Charlottetown-Rochford Square. They're already reminding Island voters of Ghiz's inexperience and what happened the last time the Liberals governed the province. Robert Ghiz's father may be a political saint in many quarters, but it was Joe Ghiz's governments that spent so freely that his successors had to cut civil servants' wages by 7.5 per cent.
And who was behind the National Post story about Ghiz's alleged expense claim improprieties. Could that have been a Tory leak to the press?
All this and more dirt is bound to be dished out before Sept. 29. It won't keep the Liberals under Ghiz from giving it the old college try, but their eyes are on another prize.
Next time out Pat Binns will have followed Mike Harris into retirement from politics. Ghiz and the Liberals will be probably be running against Mitch Muphy, Jamie Ballem, Mike Currie, or Chester Gillan.
Islanders who liken politics to gladiatorial combat can hardly
Ian Dowbiggin is professor of history at the University of Prince Edward Island. Author of four books, including the 1999 Canadian best-seller Suspicious Minds: The Triumph of Paranoia in Everyday Life, he's well-known to Maritime audiences as a controversial radio and television commentator on today's hot-button issues.