Melbourne Gass, the opposition leader who faced off against former Liberal Premier Joseph Ghiz in the 1989 election, died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Dec. 11 at the age of 79.
Gass was a well-known figure in Island politics throughout the 1980s, having served as a Progressive Conservative MP for Malpeque from 1979 to 1988. During the years of the Mulroney government, he served as parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries from 1984-1986.
Known as a skilled constituency politician, he took over the leadership of the provincial PC’s in 1988, leading the party into an election in 1989. The party lost heavily to the Liberals under Ghiz, garnering two seats to the Liberals’ 30. Gass resigned from leadership of the party in 1990.
Former Premier Pat Binns became friends with Gass while he was serving as MP for Cardigan from 1984-1988. Binns believes Gass’ entry into politics was motivated by his sense of civic duty.
“He seemed to have a deep love for P.E.I. in general and just wanted to contribute to make it a better place,” Binns told the Guardian on Thursday.
“He was always on top of an issue.”
Binns recalled Gass as a politician dedicated to his local riding. He would frequently be armed on Parliament Hill with a notebook full of notes related to issues in Malpeque. His focus as an MP was often on those of the Island’s primary industries - tourism, agriculture and fisheries.
Gass would often take lobster orders from MP’s during the season, return to the Island on Fridays and bring fresh catches back to Ottawa on Mondays.
Binns believes Gass made the move from federal politics to the provincial PC Party in 1988 because he believed he could make more of a difference.
"Mel, when he put his mind to something, if he thought he could do more for the Island in one position than another, he would take that step," Binns said. “With his experience, I'm sure he thought he could make that contribution."
Following his political life, Gass had a successful life in business. He co-owned the Silverwood Motel for many years and helped develop the Eagles Glenn Golf Course. He served as president of the Tourism Association of Prince Edward Island (TAPEI) from 1998 to 2000 and was actively involved with the Cavendish Resort Municipality.
Don Cudmore, who was the executive director of the TAPEI for over 20 years, described Gass as a friendly individual but one who would not shy away from fighting for what he believed in.
“When he dug in, he dug in,” Cudmore said.
Cudmore said Gass saw the potential for a high quality-oriented tourism industry on P.E.I. He also had a social conscience when it came to environmental matters, long before it was fashionable in business. He recalled an incident in which Gass fought to conserve forest growth along a coastal highway in Cavendish. Some tourism operators believed the trees obscured a view.
“He fought for the position, that it was better for the environment that way,” Cudmore said.
Cudmore said Gass was also involved in a number of other ventures, such as garlic farming.
Gass is survived by his children, Randy, Kim (Bob) Andrews, Robb, their mother, Lois, and his three grandchildren, Matthew, Jordan and Katie Andrews. He is also survived by his brother, Andy, and many nieces and nephews.
A funeral service for Gass will take place at the Belvedere Funeral Home on Dec. 15 at 10 a.m., with a reception to follow. The family has asked that memorial donations be made to the ALS Society of Prince Edward Island.