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Prince Edward Island Votes 2003
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  Main > Parties and Leaders> LIB: Robert Ghiz
Voting Day September 29, 2003  
Parties and Leaders

Robert Ghiz, leader of the Liberal Party.


Robert Ghiz In sports they're called "walk on's," the player that drops in, tries out, and makes the team. Robert Ghiz not only made the team, he's been named captain, coach and general manager in just six months.

"I'm a pretty big sports fan. I love watching hockey. I love playing basketball. I love playing golf. I still have hockey equipment; I don't put it on nearly as much as I should. Without a doubt, sports is one of the passions I have in life."

For the former high school basketball star, here's the scenario: it's the fourth quarter, his team's down by a lot, he’s been handed the ball and is expected to make the shot that wins the game.

At 29, Robert Ghiz is playing in the big leagues with a team searching for a star and hoping to rebound from way behind.

Learning the game
The look in the eyes, the hand gestures, the voice - three traits that will tell you this guy has many of the skills needed to play in the political arena.

At 29, the son of the late former P.E.I. premier Joe Ghiz and his wife, Rose Ellen, is making his first run for elected office. And since he was just elected leader of the Island Liberal party in April, there's extra pressure on this rookie player.

It wasn't until he moved away from home that Robert realized politics was one of his interests. By the time he was in junior high and high school, his father was premier and making national headlines in the debate over national unity.

While his parents never tried to shield Robert and his sister, Joanne, from the spotlight, his early years were spent playing sports and spending summers at the family cottage in Brudenell.

"When you're growing up you figure your dad has a job just like everybody else, and you don’t really realize what that is. It wasn't until later on in life that I've actually come to appreciate the things my father did."

And it wasn't until he arrived at Bishop's University that Ghiz realized he shared his father's love of politics. By that time Joe had moved on, retired from the political ring and returned to law.

Robert Ghiz"It was more natural if you want to know the truth. I realized that I had a bit of knowledge, probably through osmosis, on politics and on government. I changed my major from English to political science in my second year of university."

Ghiz graduated with a political studies degree, and began looking for a job in the spring of 1996. Back in Charlottetown his father, who had been made a Supreme Court judge, was fighting a last battle with cancer.

On Nov. 6 of that year, Robert walked his mother down the aisle of the church for one last goodbye, the prime minister and premiers from across the country joined 1,200 mourners in Charlottetown's biggest basilica at the state funeral for Joe Ghiz.

The crowd spilled into the street in front of St. Dunstan's, the funeral was covered live on TV, and the politicians remembered a man who was a fierce federalist and who built a national profile while running the province from 1986 to 1992.

It was also a chance for Robert to reflect on his dad's accomplishments. The one that springs to mind, the proudest moment, was in 1992 he says, when the premiers came to the Island.

"I guess it probably was when the Charlottetown Accord was going on here on Prince Edward Island - the premiers were here, the prime minister was here and we were at the centre of attention, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, deciding the future of the country. It’s one of the best memories I have."

The fall also began a six-year odyssey that would land Ghiz back in Charlottetown in the same political job his father once held.

Robert worked on that fall's federal election campaign, applying for a job with Sheila Copps' office after the vote. In a short two weeks, he was hired, packed up, had left his friends and family and moved to Ottawa.

That was followed by a stint as a consultant with the Bank of Nova Scotia.

Then two years ago, the Prime Minister's Office called offering Robert a position as special advisor for Atlantic Canada.

Quick facts: Robert Ghiz

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 federal Heritage Minister Sheila Copps as a special assistant, and for the Bank Of Nova Scotia.
Politics: A party organizer, this is the first time Ghiz has run for elected office.
Extra : An avid sports fan, Ghiz play hockey, basketball and golf.
Family: Single, the only son of former prmier Joe Ghiz and Rose Ellen (McGowan). He has one sister, Joanne.

Joining the league

In the fall of 2002 Ghiz moved his office back to the Island, and the rumours began.

The Liberal party was down to a single opposition member, in debt, and backroom fights were spilling onto the streets and into full barroom brawls. Robert's doorbell and phone started ringing as soon as he put his clothes into the dresser.

The decision to explore his own political aspirations was made a bit easier when he spent a day on the golf course with Prime Minister Jean Chretien. That day the conversation turned to the same rumours that were swirling around Charlottetown.

Chretien told his advisor there was no time like the present to pursue the leadership of the party and make the move off the bench and onto the playing surface.

Robert GhizGhiz announced his leadership bid on Feb. 20, and a fundraising event in Ottawa marked his exit from federal backroom to frontline provincial politics.

"I thought I was going to have more time to get reacquainted, and perhaps play a little more golf, but I chose to do this."

He's been in campaign mode ever since making the decision to run for the Liberal leadership. Those 45 days were just a warm-up for the election.

"I haven’t stopped since April 5, after I won the leadership, so I've been basically going now for six months. I find it incredible, exhilarating, exciting. You get out there, you meet people, you go into their homes. You get to see all types of different people, people with different issues, and for me it's just an unbelievable experience that I'm looking forward to continuing."

It also means a change in the way Ghiz practises his politics. Content behind the scene to this point, he is now the face of the party, and many say future Liberal fortunes are on his shoulders.

"Now I'm not the organizer saying exactly what has to be done. I'm the guy who has to go out there and do it, but I'm enjoying that aspect of it."

Just trying to help the team
Ghiz says he is learning a lot about the game of politics, and trying to be the coach and general manger does take a lot of time.

"There's a lot of people out there that want your time, but you have to make yourself available for it. Sometimes you have to make some difficult decisions."

Still Ghiz says there's not really that much stress, and what pressure he does feel drains away with a trip to the golf course, or during an evening out with his buddies reliving the year his Colonel Grey high basketball team won the provincial championship.

Ghiz, who is single, says meeting that special someone and having a family will happen "someday."

When he does have a few minutes alone, Robert turns his attention to local or national newspapers or magazines.

"I read a lot magazines. Of course, I read Maclean's, I read Sports Illustrated, Golf Digest, and I pick up the odd GQ every once and a while as well. The only thing I really don’t buy is the National Enquirer, I read the covers and that's about it, " Ghiz says with a laugh.

He's set lofty goals for the election, and expects that the Liberals will form the next government.

Not content to give into the pundits that say the Conservatives will walk back into power without breaking a sweat, Ghiz says his team is ready to play hard.


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