Political Pedigree on Prince Edward Island

Article 1 / 11 , Vol 44 No. 1 (Spring)

Political Pedigree on Prince Edward Island

It’s an interesting anecdote when a family has more than one parliamentarian, but it’s remarkable when a family has two premiers. This phenomenon has occurred not once, not twice, but three times on Prince Edward Island. The Campbell, Ghiz, and Palmer families have all produced prominent politicians who held premierships for a combined 39 years.

PEI’s first political dynasty began shortly after the Island achieved responsible government. Edward Palmer was the third premier elected on PEI, serving one four-year term as a Conservative. He was elected twice but was ousted as party leader by fellow Conservative John Hamilton Gray. Edward’s son, Herbert Palmer, was appointed premier in 1911 but was defeated in a subsequent by-election after only seven months as premier. The Palmer family was the only dynasty divided by partisan lines as Edward Palmer was a devout Conservative and Herbert Palmer a dedicated Liberal.

The Campbell family of Summerside, PEI, was the second family dynasty of Island premiers. Thane Campbell, a Rhodes Scholar and practicing lawyer, became premier in 1936, serving as a war-time leader through World War II. He established the Island’s first national park and enacted the first public service legislation on PEI. Alexander, the second Campbell premier, won his seat in 1966, becoming the youngest premier elected in Canadian history and the longest-serving premier on PEI to this day. During his 12 years (1966-1978) as premier he ushered in a new era of Island politics, modernizing social and economic programs and establishing a cooperative provincial-federal relationship.

PEI’s third executive dynasty started with the premiership of Joseph Ghiz. Joseph’s initial electoral victory was a significant milestone as he was the first premier in Canada of non-Western descent. Joseph had a deep love of Canada and supported the federal government at the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. His patriotism would later surface in one of PEI’s most controversial issues, the fixed link to mainland Canada. The successful completion of the Confederation Bridge in 1997 ended a contentious debate in Island politics and advanced one of the most notable infrastructure projects in Atlantic Canada. Years later, Robert Ghiz followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming premier at the relatively young age of 32 when elected in the 2007 election. Many critics and political opponents overlooked his candidacy due to his age, which resulted in two unexpected electoral victories, decisively winning 23 of 27 seats in 2007 and 22 of 27 seats in 2011. Robert served as premier until 2015 when he resigned to take a diplomatic post.

Ben Morrissey
Intern, Legislative Assembly of Prince Edward Island