P.E.I. Premier Robert Ghiz is resigning early in the new year, saying he wants to spend more time with family and leave the Liberal party in a good position to move forward without him.
Ghiz made the surprise announcement Thursday morning, just one day after delivering his seventh speech from the throne since taking office in 2007.
The news sent a shockwave of surprise among his entire caucus, who found out just 15 minutes before he stepped in front of a crowd of cameras and media, telling Prince Edward Islanders he plans to step down as soon as the Liberal party selects a new leader.
He did not offer a concrete reason as to why he is resigning, but pointed to his three young children, his wife, Kate — a practising physician — and also noted his wish to leave the party well-placed for the next election.
“There’s always time for renewal and I’m leaving in a position today that I’m proud of our record, but I’m also proud of the team that’s going to be here to continue on.”
He said he first made the decision to leave after hosting the country’s premiers for the Council of the Federation meetings in late August.
After speaking with his wife about their future, keeping in mind a provincial election coming in the next year and a half, he said he felt the time had come to step aside.
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Speculation has been swirling for the last year about Ghiz planning a jump to Ottawa. He has made a number of trips to the capital for meetings and speaking engagements. He also regularly makes the rounds on the national media circuit, even attending the annual parliamentary press gallery dinner last May.
When asked if he plans to run federally, he said he has no immediate plans to do so, but would not rule it out in the future.
“As of now, I don’t have anything specific, but as you know, I am a friend of Justin (Trudeau) and a fan of Justin and I guess we’ll wait and see,” Ghiz said.
“Hopefully my options are wide open.”
He also noted he has served 12 years as leader of the Liberal party of P.E.I., eight as premier and, at the age of 40, still has some years ahead of him to consider a future in politics down the road.
Looking back on his time in office, he said he is most proud of the changes his government made to the province’s early childhood education system.
In 2010, kindergarten was moved into the province’s public school system and a provincial curriculum was developed for daycares based on expert studies in early childhood development.
As for the timing of his decision to resign, Ghiz said there is never a good time to make this kind of announcement.
But UPEI political science professor Don Desserud says he finds both the timing and reasoning for Ghiz’s resignation unusual.
“It would make sense if he announced his resignation in the summer, or if he came in with an agenda for one more (legislative) session, and then when the session was over, announced his resignation,” Desserud said.
“But this, with the timing the day after the speech from the throne, strikes me as just a little odd … it just doesn’t add up in my mind.”
Desserud was loath to speculate on another reason why Ghiz is suddenly resigning, except to say he does not believe the rumours he’s planning a federal run.
“He wants to leave a sure thing, which is the premiership of a province, to be a cabinet minister under Justin Trudeau if Trudeau wins and if Ghiz can find a seat and not make that a messy situation? I don’t see that as a possibility at all,” Desserud said.
“So if you take that out of the picture, is there something else going on? You just get big question marks.”
Ghiz offered little in the way of hints, saying: “I have absolutely no plans for what I am going to do in the future.”
But he did say he is looking forward to taking some time away from public life.
“I’m looking forward to perhaps being a bit of an armchair quarterback, so to speak, and pontificating.”
Ghiz will remain premier until after the next Liberal leader is chosen.
He plans to resign as both premier and MLA at that time.