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.