This weekend, if the weather is right and Joe Ghiz can escape the demands placed on an incoming premier, he will bundle his family—wife Rose Ellen, son Robert, 12, and daughter Joanne, 2—into a seven-year-old blue Mercury station wagon and drive out to Brudenell in eastern Prince Edward Island, the site of their family retreat. The cottage, a comfortable cedar shingle affair, is set
at the end of a dirt road amid three acres of sporadically mowed lawn sloping gently down toward the tidewater estuary of the Brudenell River. The annual family outing to open the cottage is the sort of thing Ghiz revels in. For Prince Edward Island’s new premier-elect, family is not merely the private magnetic pole sustaining his identity and direction. It is at the very centre of his political purpose.
“Family brings it all home,” he said last week. “You see the future in your children.” Ghiz’s own childhood memories of helping out behind the counter of his parents’ Charlottetown grocery store after school are reflected in his blueprint for Island prosperity. Even after leaving the Island to study law at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, Ghiz would pitch in on weekends, stocking shelves and delivering grocery orders. “The family business was part of my being—Mum and Dad and children working together made the business work,” he told Maclean's. “And I instinctively know that the things that are going to work on Prince Edward Island are the small, family businesses. That’s where the jobs are created.”
However, Ghiz’s views are based on more than nostalgia. Beneath a cultivated folksiness, he has a keen intellect and an intensity of purpose. In the past, the combination has sometimes erupted in outbursts of temper. That and a tendency to lapse into the adversarial posture of the courtroom lawyer remain his most frequently cited shortcomings. Noted one close observer: “Ghiz has a temper. He has a kind of disdain or contempt at times. He has controlled that so far, but power does strange things to politicians. Patience wears thin.”
Ghiz has stoked his political ambition since his undergraduate days at Prince of Wales College, where he was involved in student politics. In 1981 he defeated party veteran Gilbert Clements to claim the Liberal leadership vacated by Bennett Campbell. But in the general election less than a year later, Ghiz’s platform style was branded too aggressive. The penetrating intellect, honed by a master’s degree from Harvard Law School, too often found expression in what some Islanders called “five-dollar words.” For this election campaign Ghiz cultivated a down-home accent and favored jeans and a sweater instead of his customary suit and tie.
Power will mean changes for Ghiz and his family. Ghiz will close his oneman law office, just down the street from the Island legislature. One welcome bonus: a raise in income to $62,000 from $49,000 annually. And there may be more formal parties in the couple’s 17-room Victorian mansion in Charlottetown’s tony Brighton neighborhood. But Joe Ghiz is still likely to be found on a weekend turning over his Brudenell vegetable garden or playing basketball on the driveway with son Robert. Said the premier-elect last week: “I intend to continue to be Joe Ghiz.”
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