Robert Ghiz is in his final week as premier of Prince Edward Island, which means a major shakeup is about to occur in some of the most senior positions in the P.E.I. government.
Ghiz presided over his final cabinet meeting Wednesday. He will be given a grand sendoff by the party during an event Friday evening in Charlottetown.
But he may not be the only member of executive council or senior government staffer in the final days of his current post.
When Ghiz's resignation takes effect after Wade MacLauchlan officially becomes leader of the Liberal party this weekend, Ghiz's cabinet will effectively be dissolved.
Cabinet is appointed by the premier, so when a premier resigns, his cabinet also resigns. Deputy ministers are also appointed by the premier, and, contrary to what many may believe, answer to the premier, not their department ministers.
A number of other appointed positions are also at the discretion of the premier of the day, including the chief of staff, clerk of executive council, policy advisers and some communications staff.
That means when Ghiz finally leaves office this weekend, it will likely create a fairly sizable turnover in some of the most influential and senior positions within the P.E.I. government.
To begin with, MacLauchlan will appoint his own cabinet. A number of current cabinet ministers have indicated they will not run in the next election, including Finance Minister Wes Sheridan, Deputy Premier and Agriculture Minister George Webster and Fisheries Minister Ron MacKinley. It will be interesting to see whether MacLauchlan reappoints any of these individuals to his own cabinet next week. If he does, they could be seen as “lame duck” ministers, killing time until they collect their pensions and/or severance packages. Since they have all been heavy hitters in the Ghiz government, excluding them from cabinet could alternately be seen as a negative statement about the outgoing administration's record or a convenient distancing from any controversial Ghiz government decisions.
We could see some new faces in cabinet and a shifting of portfolios among existing cabinet ministers. A major change there would be surprising, given that MacLauchlan has repeatedly said he would not wait long before calling an election – often quoting former Liberal premier Alex Campbell who said he would hold an election when the ground was dry, which in his case was April. That does not give a lot of time for new ministers to become familiar with their portfolios before the election.
We could, on the other hand, perhaps see fewer people in cabinet. MacLauchlan has the authority to appoint as many as 11 cabinet ministers, but the Executive Council Act says he can appoint as few as seven. Ghiz has only ever appointed 10 (although he amended the legislation in 2009 allowing for the possibility of an 11th). MacLauchlan could consolidate portfolios or departments or he could even take on responsibility for certain departments himself. Robert Ghiz already does this. He is premier, but is also the minister responsible for Aboriginal, Acadian and Francophone affairs. If MacLauchlan is ambitious enough or wants to put his own stamp on certain key portfolios, such as finance or education, he could name himself as minister responsible for these departments until the election.
It will be equally interesting to see what MacLauchlan does with the current set of deputy ministers. In many cases, deputies do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the day-to-day operation of each department. Will he keep some of the existing deputies to allow for a smooth transition or will he put his own stamp on each department by appointing his own fleet of new deputy ministers?
Speculation has also been circling about the political future of Transportation Minister Robert Vessey. He is one of MacLauchlan's campaign co-chairs and has been working closely with MacLauchlan as he prepares to take over as premier. Vessey was nominated in MacLauchlan's home riding of District 9 York-Oyster Bed last May – well before it was known that Ghiz would resign or MacLauchlan would step in. Almost every other riding is either going through a contested nomination process or has been spoken for by an MLA committed to running in the next election. Leaders are traditionally never contested for their nominations, so that has left many to speculate about whether Vessey will step aside and let MacLauchlan run in District 9. I asked Vessey about this recently, and he simply replied he is the nominated candidate in District 9. I will be closely watching what he does this weekend at the convention.
It will be an interesting few weeks in P.E.I. as we finally get to see some of MacLauchlan's plans for the province – because even if he doesn't lay out a full policy platform, many of his decisions on some of these appointments will likely give an indication of where he is coming from and his direction going into the next election.