After retiring from P.E.I. politics, former MLAs keeping busy

Teresa Wright
Published on January 16, 2016

Retired Liberal MLA Ron MacKinley feeds some of the horses on his farm in Cornwall. MacKinley has been busy catching up on farm and household chores since leaving politics last spring.

©THE GUARDIAN/Heather Taweel

The Guardian follows up with MacKinley, Ghiz, Docherty, Lantz

Ron MacKinley may no longer have a seat in the P.E.I. legislature, but he still keeps a closer eye on Island politics than he likes to admit.

Sitting in his home in Cornwall last week, MacKinley shook his head when asked what he thought of the Wade MacLauchlan government’s performance so far.

“They’re getting along good, but it’s too early to make any predictions,” he said.

“I haven’t paid that much attention to it.”

Then that familiar sparkle appeared in his eye as he remarked about the fall session of the legislature.

He misses the back-and-forth banter in the house, something he was particularly fond of partaking in.

“When I’m watching the house, it’s got very boring,” MacKinley said.

“They’re all in there like a giant love-in. I mean, we would have our differences, but then we would always go out and have a coffee with the Opposition after. But now, you have 25 per cent Liberals and 25 per cent Tories watching, and they’d like to see a little feud going on there.”

MacKinley announced his decision to retire from politics just ahead of the provincial election last spring after serving 29-and-a-half years in office.

Since leaving public life, MacKinley has spent most of his time catching up on chores around his home and farm, where he raises horses.

He showed off a wall he built in the barn next to his home and a shed he built next to the nearby horse enclosure. Driving in his pickup down a rutted lane, he pointed to a big pile of farm rubbish he recently cleared out of the barn.

Old habits die hard. MacKinley kept the same cell number and still fields calls from area residents voicing concerns.

He believes it’s this grassroots approach that helped make him so popular as a politician.

“I found that if you’re sitting in an office, people mightn’t phone you or complain. But if you’re out and around, they’ll tell you what they’re thinking. It’s a good way to keep your ear to the ground.”

MacKinley was one of several high-profile MLAs who did not reoffer in the provincial election and who are now finding new ways to keep busy.

Another was his boss, former premier Robert Ghiz.

Besides doing school drop-off and pick-up of his kids, Ghiz says he has been doing charity work, including organizing a fundraising dinner for veterans, as well as working with the Prince’s Charities of Canada.

That charity, establisehd by the Prince of Wales, involves improving the lives of disadvantaged youth, education, responsible business, improving the built environment, regeneration of heritage, environmental sustainability and support for the armed forces.

He has also been doing some consulting work for a few firms, all outside the province, mainly in Toronto.

“I’ve got a little more flexibility, I’m spending a lot more time with the kids and it’s good,” Ghiz said.

He noted the province’s conflict of interest rules disallow cabinet ministers from accepting employment from any person or firm that did business with the province for at least six months after leaving office. As premier, that left virtually everything off the table for Ghiz.

He says he will soon make a decision about some opportunities available to him, but as for speculation he may be offered an appointment by the Justin Trudeau government, he says those are “just rumours.”

Meanwhile, a former member of his cabinet is also adjusting to life outside the public realm, but under different circumstances.

Valerie Docherty was defeated in the spring election.

She says this created an added level of an adjustment, since the choice was made not by her but by the electorate.

“When you’re not done in your mind and you want to continue to do what you’ve been doing and someone else makes that decision for you, it takes a lot longer to adjust and figure out, ‘what am I now supposed to do?’ ” she said.

“I’m a strong believer in things happen for a reason… but I’m good with it and I’ve had the summer to just look after me.”

Docherty says she has found great pleasure in gardening and scrapbooking. She has also been working with a number of charities, including Hospice P.E.I., Family Violence Prevention Services and the Canadian Cancer Society.

On the other side of the political sphere, former Progressive Conservative Leader Rob Lantz has also been adjusting to life after politics.

Lantz did not win a seat in the legislature last spring, but did stay on as party leader until eventually resigning in October.

He has since returned to work in his former field of information technology and has renewed his passion for physical activity with Crossfit and hiking trips. He says he is enjoying having more time with his family after 10 intense months of campaigning, first for the PC leadership and then in the provincial election.

“I don’t think the public has a full understanding of just how all-consuming political life is for our elected officials,” he said.

“Although I was fully committed to the position I’d taken on, there’s a sense of relief that my family doesn’t have to pay the price of the commitment I made.”

He added he would be very surprised with himself if he decided to take another stab at politics.

Back in Cornwall, MacKinley says he hasn’t ruled out some involvement with politics in the future. He has been offered some consulting work, which he has so far turned down.

“I don’t know what the future is going to hold. I can’t read the future,” he said.