Robert Ghiz on Maritime union: ‘Preposterous’

Paul Wells reports back from lunch with the premier


The premier of Prince Edward Island is two days away from shaving his Movember moustache, but in the meantime he’s got a pretty good growth on his top lip and is, like all newly hirsute men, a bit self-conscious about it. His finger kept straying to his Mo as we chatted, as if to hide his whiskers or make sure they are really there. Until the weekend he looks like this:

Robert Ghiz is in Ottawa to visit the Prime Minister. “I see him about twice a year, and then if he gets out to the Island, we get another meeting,” he said. Like all the other premiers, Ghiz had apparently genuine hopes of seeing Stephen Harper drop by last week’s premiers’ conference in Halifax. Murmurs out of Ottawa suggested that, for a while there anyway, it might happen. But it didn’t, so they had to content themselves with trying to figure Pauline Marois out. “Gave us a chance to practise our French,” he said.

At 38, elected in 2007, Ghiz will be, once Dalton McGuinty steps down as Ontario premier, the longest-serving premier in Canada. Much of his attention these days is on containing health-care costs. He’s pretty sure he can’t, very much: the baby-boomer cohort is entering old age, and caring for them cannot be made much cheaper.

But today he is preoccupied with something else: the attempt by three Conservative senators to put a union of the Maritime provinces on the national political agenda. Stephen Greene of Nova Scotia, John Wallace of New Brunswick and Mike Duffy of Prince Edward Island have begun raising the notion that a United Province of New Edward Scotia (I just made the name up) would have more clout than three provinces suffering by themselves would have.

Rob Ghiz is totally the premier of one of the provinces in question, so I put the idea to him. “It’s preposterous,” he said. “It’s just not a good idea. And if you want me to be a little mean about it, I think it’s a very simplistic view.”

Does he think the PMO is behind the senators’ campaign? “I’m not getting that sense, no. I think it’s senators with time on their hands… would I say ‘rogue?’ Well, the PM has never raised it with me.”

What’s wrong with pooling resources? “We’re already doing that on a lot of things. Procurement, health care, education, trade…our liquor boards buy together. We buy school buses together. …If you go on the website of the CAP (the Council of Atlantic Premiers), we’re already doing a lot of what they’re talking about.

What about saving costs? Ghiz posits a future Prince Nova Brunswick with half the provincial members in its single legislature, one premier instead of three, and two fewer lieutenants governor. “Is that gonna make us a ‘have’ province? Nope. Is it gonna lessen our clout in Confederation? Yeah.”

The challenges the Atlantic provinces face aren’t administrative, he said. “If the Atlantic provinces merge, there’s still gonna be oil in Alberta.”

Well, he’s a premier. Of course he wants a lot of provinces to be premier of. “Doesn’t affect me personally. I wouldn’t be around in 10, 15 years when it happens.”

Ghiz didn’t raise the difficulty of getting a constitutional amendment, but I did and he agreed: since the Constitution mentions the number of Senators (I think) and MPs (I’m pretty sure) PEI gets, an amendment to replace three provinces with one would require a unanimous constitutional amendment. Those are hard.

So that’s one premier on the record. Over to you, senators.


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Robert Ghiz on Maritime union: ‘Preposterous’

  1. People I know from the east often remind me the “Maritime Provinces” are Nfld, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, and British Columbia. I also note that Ghiz himself is careful to use the term “Altantic” Provinces.

    • ‘The Maritimes’ is a specific reference to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI. Atlantic Canada is that, plus Newfoundland. They are not interchangeable terms, and British Columbia is not, and has never been a Maritime Province. If you think you are being cute about the presence of water, every province except for Alberta and Saskatchewan has an ocean coastline. If people from “the east” remind you of that, they know not of what they speak.

      • It took me a minute to figure out how BC got into that list. It guess it is a maritime province, but it’s not a part of “The Maritimes.”

      • opinions vary. assuming you are right just because it;s what you think is foolish.

    • There is not a chance in 100 that someone from “the east” you that NL was a “Maritime” province, let alone BC–if, by “the east,” you mean NB, NS or PEI. I’m from Saint John, and in my entire life I have never heard someone from the region refer to BC as a “Maritime” province. Your comment is simply ridiculous.

  2. Like I said, we don’t have ‘one’ country here, we have ten.

    And yet PEI has a mostly seasonal economy, and has benefitted the most from equalization.

  3. It’s completely predictable that the smallest of the provinces would be leery of a union with two larger ones that would inevitably and instantly begin ignoring its interests, which is why PEI has constitutional guarantees for representation in the first place. The senators are naive to just add up the current federal representation and assume that would remain the same when a constitutional amendment would be required to create the new entity. Why would proportionately under represented parts of Canada agree to that? Mike Duffy doesn’t even know the history of his own seat, just knows where he bought it from.

    • And why would they do that? Barbarians at the gate?

  4. The reality is that the entire question is a non-starter without a constitutional change, and that won’t happen. What or who is the constituency for this change? It doesn’t have one, and the supposed benefits the Senators point to can largely be achieved with the kinds of cooperation advocated by Premier Ghiz. Have these Senators been to the Maritimes lately? You sometimes wonder.

  5. Let’s make Quebec and Alberta one province!

  6. people.newfoundland and labrador is not a maritime its become a colonial outpost.NL. was a country before it was a province.

    • A broke country.

  7. Good luck with that senators. Even on the wet coast you get people defending their turf fiercely. Some on VI even think remaining a part of BC has debatable merits, leave alone Canada.

  8. The nature of most of the comments here tell how difficult it
    would be … on the other hand, the ‘stache bit is funny. I get a
    great charge out watching Robert Chisholm obsessively fondling
    his face in the House. One more day.

  9. Given Ghiz’s methods of government, the Island might soon be owned by the banks anyways.

    Seriously though, demographics and a dwindling tax base may force some greater economic unity. We’re seriously overly redundant in government for our population base.

  10. Nice, how Ghiz cites the Council of ATLANTIC premier. No mention of the all but forgotten Council of Maritime Premiers which started life so boldy in the 1970s. The Maritime Council of HIgher Education is its only remaining accomplishment of any note. Meanwhile, the three provinces are like scorpions in a bottle when it comes to economic development initiatives and energy policy. They pay national level salaries to health administrators to manage services for administrative units with fewer people than the city of Hamilton. In 1864, Confederation was the preferred (if despised) alternative to Union and 150 years later the latter is no more likely. Much greater coordination would be possible, however, but that would mean a reduction in the power of patronage each premier now enjoys on his own.