P.E.I. Tories big winners last Thursday

Departure of Premier Ghiz removes obstacles for several prominent PC leadership hopefuls

Published on November 18, 2014

Progressive Conservative party president Peter McQuaid and interim party leader Steven Myers share a laugh at the party's annual meeting Saturday in North Rustico. The party's leadership convention will be held May 30, 2015. Guardian photo by Teresa Wright.

While the buzz continues over possible Liberal leadership race hopefuls, the biggest beneficiary of Premier Robert Ghiz’s resignation announcement will be the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. The Tories hold their convention May 30 to select a permanent leader and already, the prospects for that new leader have brightened considerably.

Even the most diehard PC supporter would grudgingly concede that defeating the Liberals under Robert Ghiz would be a difficult task — difficult but not impossible. Now with the seasoned premier about to step down officially in late January or early February, the provincial Liberals are suddenly much more vulnerable.

The race for Tory leader has also become much more attractive. Instead of possibly spending a year outside the legislature rail and then maybe another four years in Opposition, the new leader could become premier within the year. For an ambitious person, and that is a necessary requirement for any serious politician, power is what it’s all about and the sooner power is achieved the better.

The person with the biggest smile on his face last Thursday was likely Rob Lantz. The former Charlottetown city councillor was in a tough situation. He was ready to declare his intentions to seek the provincial PC leadership but his home riding would be Charlottetown-Brighton, the seat currently held by Mr. Ghiz. A party leader running against another party leader is usually impolitic, and running against an entrenched premier would be a huge uphill battle.

It  means Mr. Lantz would be forced to a neighbouring riding, a wise political move and strategically necessary, but the optics would look bad. Critics would say he was ducking Mr. Ghiz or running from a fight. Now Mr. Lantz faces no such obstacles and he can quietly add Mr. Ghiz to his Christmas card list.

The Opposition can poke fun at Liberal manoeuvrings inside the legislature for the next month as the jockeying continues among government MLAs to shore up support and form alliances. The Liberals are under serious time constraints and it will soon be time to declare. The sooner a leadership candidate makes an announcement, and brings several cabinet ministers and caucus members to the podium for photos ops, the better.

By coincidence, both Grits and Tories held fundraisers just hours after the premier’s bombshell last Thursday. There was a significant, positive sea change at the Tory event Friday night. On hand was Egmont MP Gail Shea, a no-show at the recent PC annual meeting. Ms. Shea also saw a major obstacle removed from her path to the premiership. She is weighing her options of what to do — reoffer federally, make a run for provincial leader, or retire gracefully, like Premier Ghiz has done, as the height of her popularity and power.

There was a buzz in the room and confident smiles on many faces Friday night. PC Party president Peter McQuaid was ebullient as he greeted supporters, realizing his job had suddenly become a lot easier. As he noted, odds are good the Tories are likely bringing in a new face as leader with new ideas, while the Liberals will likely select a current member of cabinet or caucus as leader.

The success Mr. Ghiz enjoyed as leader could also play well for Jason Lee. Mr. Ghiz proved a son could be a very able premier following in the footsteps of a famous father who was also a popular premier. Mr. Lee, considered a strong PC leadership candidate, could follow his father, Jim Lee, who was premier from 1981 to 1986. Could P.E.I. history repeat itself, albeit with a slight twist?