Major shakeup on the horizon

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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.

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Recent comments

  • old man
    February 24, 2015 - 15:29

    Certainly the Premier appoints the deputies, but they answer to the Minister, --- If that is not the case, there is something wrong. The Ministers are the ones that talk to the Premier on a regular basis, not the deputies. The Ministers work in Cabinet with the Premier and bring back instructions and issues to the deputies. Imagine if it was otherwise, and the Premier after each cabinet meeting instructed each individual deputy minister. That would render the Ministers "redundant". A cheaper alternative mind you, and perhaps as effective, that maybe should be explored by our new Premier.

  • Island Veteran
    February 23, 2015 - 12:30

    I fear Democracy on the Island is mortally wounded when a Non elected person is selected to head the government by a small group of people, ergo the Liberal Party executive, not the public or even the general party voters who were not given leadership candidates to select from. Was there no fit currently sitting MLA who could serve as acting Premier until the election?? Really? I am shocked to read that he can now then take charge of the island's finances as finance minister is he solely chooses? I think it was an ethical if not legal obligation of the Liberal Party to put forward suitable candidates for the position. To say they only have one and he is new to politics says to me at least that this Party and the government is not fit to be re-elected. Why do I smell an aroma of feudalism or communism here. He is not Premier in my eyes until he has a seat in the house as a publically elected member. They should have gone to election when they figured out that there was no MLA in the house qualified or suitable to act as the Acting premier until after the election.

  • @angus
    February 21, 2015 - 13:35

    I'm surprise that you are even thing of voting for him! He call Olive toxic at the liberal dis #7 meeting,she went there to join his party when she was told hell no!! Vote green!

  • Angus
    February 20, 2015 - 22:49

    Although not a Liberal, after the Tory shennanigans with regards to Olive Crane, their back room boys and following orders of disgraced Senator Mike Duffy, I'm prepared to give Wade a chance. I also think he's an honourable man, with a family name to uphold and I highly doubt he'll want some of Ghiz's crowd around him with their besmirched reputations. This leads me to believe there'll be a wholesale housecleaning before the election and not all of it will be voluntary. And if anyone thinks those already deciding not to run did so by choice, then I have a bridge in New York for sale that you should buy as well.

  • dah!!
    February 20, 2015 - 11:47

    Its all over ch'town, that Vessey has the job!He told s couple of people that was looking for something, that he would be able to do more for them, after he is Wade's chief of staff!

  • sipowicz
    February 19, 2015 - 19:26

    Best of luck Premier ghiz. Thank you for everything.

  • Bob MacDonald
    February 19, 2015 - 17:27

    I don't think he has too much right to shake things up until he wins a seat. I also don't think he can really decide who should go where until he has been there for while either. I think he will choose the status quo until he gets to work with his team for a bit.

  • Ela
    February 19, 2015 - 14:10

    While partying to give our elite premier a n elaborate send off please remember all the poor people of PEI. Those that find it hard to eat and pay the bills. Children not having enough to eat. Social Services not allowing children to have a bite to eat by punishing their parents. Why the big send off at all with the shape he left the Island in. What a shame. Sleep well.

    • wondering too
      February 20, 2015 - 10:35

      I wonder if they are using the money they stole from the poor to pay for this "grand sendoff"?