The appointment of Ron MacKinley as P.E.I. minister of fisheries, aquaculture and rural development has to go down in the books as an unusual choice.
Voters in Tignish-Palmer Road (the most westerly riding the province) ensured there would be a new minister after they decided not to give Neil LeClair a second mandate. He held the office from 2009 until the Oct. 3 election.
MacKinley certainly brings plenty of political experience to the job. He is the dean of the legislature, with more than 25 years inside the rail. However, his first hand knowledge of the fishery is limited. Besides being a career politician, his background is in agriculture. His family has been running a potato and beef operation for several decades.
Premier Robert Ghiz does have two people in his caucus with a fishing background. Tracadie-Hillsborough MLA Buck Watts is a former president of the P.E.I. Fishermen’s Association and is now entering his second term as an MLA. Many political observers had him pegged for the job in their cabinet line-up.
The other possibility was less likely. Belfast-Murray River MLA Charlie McGeoghegan is still an active fisherman. He was first elected to office in a by-election in 2008 that occurred during fishing season. He never skipped a beat, hitting the campaign trail after landing his catch. He won that vote handily, but had a much tougher battle this time around beating Conservative Darlene Compton by just eight votes.
What likely knocked him out of the running was the fact his father, Michael, is the current fishermen’s association president. That would mean he would have to declare a conflict of interest in any dealings with the association, which would severely hamper his performance as minister.
While MacKinley may not have much first-hand knowledge of the fishery, the industry could not ask for a more relentless champion. Despite his political longevity, MacKinley never made it to cabinet until 2007. That is largely because he had a reputation of fiercely defending his constituents, even if it meant criticizing his own party.
While that strategy will get you re-elected election after election, it doesn’t always make you popular with your party leader. If your party leader happens to be premier, that is not good for your cabinet chances.
When Robert Ghiz took over leadership of the party in 2001, MacKinley was the only Liberal in the legislature. Keeping the party alive until help arrived in the person of three other MLA’s in 2003 essentially meant he was owed whatever cabinet post he wanted when the party came back to power in 2007.
He chose Transportation and Public Works and was fond of boasting he did more paving during his term than any other transportation minister in the province’s history.
MacKinley may not be the most knowledgeable person in the room when he goes to federal/provincial/territorial fisheries ministers meetings but you can take this to the bank—everybody will know he was there.