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Former premier getting back to business

Thursday, September 01, 2016 @ 8:00 PM | By Geoff Kirbyson


Gowling WLG has recruited the son of a high-profile Liberal leader, who also went on to become a national political force in Canada by sweeping into public office himself.

It’s Robert Ghiz, former premier of Prince Edward Island, who followed in the political footsteps of his dad, Joe, becoming one of the few father-and-son tandems to lead a provincial government in Canada.

Who did you think we were talking about?

The 42 year old has joined the firm as a senior business adviser and is expected to play a key role in growing its domestic and international business, as well as providing strategic business advice to the firm’s clients across a wide range of sectors.

After taking a mandatory six-month hiatus following his resignation a little more than a year ago — rules stipulated he couldn’t associate with a company or organization that might have had any relationship with the province — he knew he wanted to do something on a big stage, likely with a large consulting or law firm.

After a dozen years in politics, Ghiz thought it was a good time to move “from the front page of the paper every day” to something with a lower profile.

He’ll continue to do some consulting and charity work but his new role will take up the majority of his time.

“It’s a good fit for me at Gowling. Over the last 20 years of my career and eight years as premier, I’ve dealt with a lot of public policy issues, ranging from health care, negotiating with the federal government, different provisions around trade deals and education. I’ve been intimately involved with them and [the experience] has given me a good perspective for current and potential clients dealing with any of that,” he said. Ghiz has always been pro-business and pro-trade so he’s excited to be starting a role with a strong business slant.

“For eight years, I had people knocking on my door and calling me. Now I’m turning into the salesman mode myself. I realize I’m going to strike out more than not but if you don’t get out there, then you’re not going to succeed at anything. You have to be willing to put yourself out there to look for different opportunities,” he says.

Ghiz, who is married to his wife of 10 years, Dr. Kate Ellis-Ghiz, and father to their three children, will maintain a residence in Charlottetown while travelling to Gowling’s offices in Toronto and Ottawa.

Peter Lukasiewicz, CEO of Gowling WLG, says Ghiz was never one to settle for the status quo.

“Robert spearheaded major economic and social reforms as premier of Prince Edward Island, significantly improving the lives of its residents. He’s a talented relationship builder and tireless problem solver, and will be an ideal ambassador for the firm and adviser to our clients, both in Canada and abroad.”

Ghiz started working at 22 after completing his undergraduate degree so he didn’t have the chance to follow his father’s exact career path — the elder Ghiz was a lawyer, judge and dean of the law school at Dalhousie University.

“You pick it up through osmosis. I always said, ‘I’m never going into politics.’ But in university, the one subject I knew the most about was political studies. It pulled me in that direction,” he says.

Ghiz laughs when the family comparison with Pierre Trudeau and Justin Trudeau is brought up.

“It’s on a different scale. I’ve known Justin for quite a few years. I’m extremely proud of his accomplishments. He’s his own man, has his own idea and he wants to modernize different public policies in our country. He’s proud of his father’s accomplishments but he wants to stand on his own two feet,” he said.

No matter how much he might want to downplay it, when two members of the same family hold the same political office, that constitutes a dynasty.

“When you’re growing up, you don’t fully understand what your parents do. It’s not until you’re a little bit older that you appreciate their impact and the successes they had,” he says.

Ghiz was just 12 years old when his father became premier of P.E.I. in 1986 and only 22 when he died of cancer in 1996.

“I look back and have some very fond memories of my father’s accomplishments in politics. Now when I look back on it, [being his son] was an absolute advantage when I entered politics but it was also a disadvantage being compared to my father and the great accomplishments he had along the way, such as the building of the Confederation Bridge and the Charlottetown Accord. I was proud of my father’s accomplishments but I was going to be my own man when I got into politics,” he says.

Ghiz says he misses “about 5 per cent” of political life but didn’t rule out running federally at some point in the future. (He is a former adviser to prime minister Jean Chrétien.)

“I had a great run over 12 years. Now is the time for me to step back and try some other things. I’m 42, who knows what I’ll be doing at 52. If there’s fire in my belly, who knows? I never want to rule anything out,” he says.

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