The Post Millennial is sitting down with all five people seeking the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island. Our fourth interview is with Kevin Arsenault.
Kevin grew up on a farm in Maple Plains, PEI, and went to school in Kinkora. He holds a Masters’ from Windsor and a PhD in Ethics from McGill.
For many years Kevin worked for organizations across Canada including as Executive Director including the National Farmers’ Union, the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice, and the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada.
He has also taught courses at UPEI as an Adjunct Professor periodically since 1986, and has ran a very successful website where he reported on corruption, environmental, and social justice issues in PEI.
TPM asked him about what he believes, what the biggest issues are, and what he would do as Premier.
TPM: How would you summarize your biggest idea?
Arsenault: Well I think more islanders are becoming aware of how politicians for the last couple of decades continue to promise accountability, transparency and fair democratic governance but we haven’t gotten that. In fact we’ve gotten secrecy, a very opaque and distanced government. People have no access to real information or power, and I’m going to change all of that.
I’ve already put out four specific policies that show how the government will be completely transparent, totally revising access to information, giving full access to the main databases especially the Lands data bank and the Corporate/Business registry basically, having the Premier and cabinet be accountable by having bi-weekly news conferences with the general public where a designee from any organization as well as the media can ask any unscripted question they want.
Basically, a fully open and transparent government. Also I have a number of policies around anti-corruption that will make it impossible for future government leaders to act in a corrupt way like they have been.
TPM: What exactly does it mean to be a Progressive Conservative?
Arsenault: Well a lot of people think that progress means allowing people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want. Basically if you really look at what progressive means you’d have to go back and see that it is rooted in an understanding of our mutual obligations to one another.
The primary organization is the family and collections of families constitute communities. So individual rights and freedoms are important but it should never destabilize the requirements for fair and cooperative communities.
You’ll hear conservatives talk about letting the free market decide, but it’s not very free when you have international corporate giants that can command and literally obliterate every local competitor.
I believe being a Progressive Conservative means having an understanding of how there is an obligation to ensure a fair and just society are provided to people. Equal footing so that their entrepreneurial spirit and their willingness to make something of themselves and their community can actually be allowed to operate.
TPM: What are the biggest issues that you’ve been hearing about and how do you plan on addressing them?
Arsenault: No question that the land issue is one of the biggest issues. Today only a very small percentage of the voting population are actually directly involved in farming, but the primary industries are under a major threat right now.
The soil is getting more and more depleted so it leaches chemicals through and takes the toxins into our groundwater. We’re 100% dependent on groundwater for drinking water. This land degradation leads to much quicker erosion and runoff from fields so you get a big problem with the increased nitrates from chemical fertilizers going into our coastal estuaries. So you’re getting these interrelated negative consequences not only to our farming but our shellfish industry. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing.
Secondly, corruption and bad deals are a serious problem. This year we (PEI) gave a multi million dollar loan to Randall J Kirk who is the controlling executive of the parent company of Aquabounty.
Forbes puts Mr. Kirk’s net worth at something like 2.8 billion dollars. We’re taking taxpayers money and giving it to an American billionaire. In 2018 we’ve given 58 million dollars in loans to less than 10 individuals. If we were to break that up into $100,000 start-up grants or loans that would be over 500 new businesses that could reinvigorate the rural communities. I would have more faith in people who are looking to start up small businesses and other operations than very well-to-do people like Mr. Kirk.
TPM: Many people might consider you the most controversial candidates for many of your views, particularly social views, how do you address your critics?
Arsenault: I guess I don’t allow people to make accusations about what I say or what I do without proof. I have high demands for my critics because I expect they have high demands of me. I always ask them to point to what I said, wrote or did that gives them reason to say what they’re accusing.
I’m fully confident in my ability to provide a reasonable basis for the positions I take, and I’m totally open to being challenged and have a respectful, civil, and intelligent discussion.
TPM: Particularly you’ve been accused for being transphobic recently.
Arsenault: As far as the accusations that I am transphobic or that I believe in conversion therapy, they are totally unfounded. As I point out to people, I have never put forward any position on transgenderism.
I have had one public guest opinion on the issue of gender ideology and whether that is something that should be taught in our public schools and my position is that it should not be taught in public schools because there is no scientific bases to justify it.
For millennia we have known, like pretty much every other animal, that humans have only two biological sexes. If that person is openly gay or transgendered they have the same rights and freedoms as any other citizen. I just say we should not put into our curriculum an ideology that is not supported by science; and quite frankly, is not even reasonable.
TPM: You’ve been investigating corruption and government abuse for years, what kind of findings have you made and how would you address them?
Arsenault: A policy I’ll be putting out after Christmas will be to prevent scandals like the E-gaming that Robert Ghiz (former Premier) left back when he resigned in 2015.
You see, when Wade MacLauchlan came in as Premier he promised to fix the whole scandal but instead he made himself president of the executive council, minister of justice, and most importantly, attorney general. He took all the power for himself and then he appoints the auditor general to investigate with a completely constrained set of parameters, including that she can’t look outside of government, when he already knew that this whole thing was set up outside of government between Ghiz’s Minister of Finance, Wes Sheridan, and a local law-firm.
My policy is essentially to separate the office of the attorney general from government. The attorney general’s office is charged with the mandate of ensuring justice and judicial ethics for the government, especially when government is not acting justly, legally and ethically.
So I’m going to separate the Attorney General’s office from government to the extent that it will be answerable not to the government in power but to the legislative assembly. The attorney general will be forced to present before the legislative assembly for questioning, with full disclosure of information on Hansard for the public. We’re going to have disclosure of the inside workings of government that we’ve never had before with me as leader and premier.