The sudden resignation of Liberal heavyweight Doug Currie leaves a gaping hole in the party’s provincial ranks. Other senior incumbents such as Bush Dumville and Buck Watts could be retiring after this term, leaving the party vulnerable unless it can attract some star candidates.
Mr. Currie was entrusted with the two biggest and most controversial portfolios since he was elected 11 years ago – health and education. Probably no one in government could have handled them any better, considering the changes in structure and staffing, and challenges in funding affecting both departments.
Oddly, Mr. Currie’s decision was hurried. Earlier Thursday, the minister addressed the P.E.I. Teachers’ Federation where all seemed well, but several hours later, he was gone. He felt the time was right, and in politics – present and future - timing is everything.
At first, his sudden departure made little sense since the party’s fortunes have rebounded in recent polls. Mr. Currie seemed to thrive on controversy and problem solving and education offered him lots of challenges. He came to work prepared and was able to deflect most attacks and questions in the legislature. His departure is a major blow for Premier Wade MacLauchlan.
Before Robert Ghiz resigned in November 2014, Mr. Currie was considered a strong choice as the party’s next leader and premier. Then along came Mr. MacLauchlan, and faced with turmoil, a new PC leader and a looming election, every Liberal MLA - including Mr. Currie – fell in line.
Since Premier MacLauchlan has declared his intention to lead the Liberals into the next election, he could be at the party’s helm for another five or six years. For an ambitious man like Mr. Currie, that’s too long to wait.
As he said in a post-resignation interview, he is looking forward to his next big opportunity. That doesn’t include provincial politics – at this time – but he hasn’t ruled out a return to public life. His departure reduces political baggage, so stepping down now widens his future options.
It was a little surprising the premier didn’t use this opportunity for a larger cabinet shuffle. He is well past the midway point of his term and it seemed like an ideal time to make some major moves. Instead he was content to promote Jordan Brown, the Charlottetown-Brighton MLA who defeated PC Leader Rob Lantz in 2015, to the education portfolio. The premier blamed the looming fall sitting of the legislature, saying it would be unfair to thrust ministers into new jobs at this time.
The ebullient new minister has been groomed for this opportunity. He was named chair of the special legislative committee on democratic reform and it seems the premier is a supporter. As a bonus, Mr. Brown’s wife is a teacher and they have two young children heading into the education system.
Mr. Currie faces a six-month cooling off period from government but leaves with a generous severance and pension package. He’s content for now to bide his time and see which way the political winds blow.