The first debate of the PEI Progressive Conservative Leadership race occurred on Thursday evening in Poole’s Corner, PEI. The five candidates discussed a wide variety of issues in front of a packed crowd at the Kaylee Hall, with standing room only.
The debate was very civilized and interesting with points of both agreement and contention between the five diverse candidates.
Allan Dale, an engineer, said that with an election on the horizon people will run away from the current government. Dale wants to “build a party that truly listens to islanders,” with economic development not just focused in Charlottetown as a priority.
Sarah Stewart-Clark, a scientist and nominated PC candidate, stressed her six months as a candidate, and that she represents the grassroots values of this island. She wants to form a credible government based on evidence and best practices.
Shawn Driscoll, former CPC staffer and candidate, stressed work history with MP Gail Shea and how he wants to build a better place to live here on PEI. We need to shake things up in this party, he said, and announced right there a $2500 tax credit for families with disabled children.
Dennis King, former PC Staffer and journalist, called the event and audience a “political family.” He called the debate a chance to test them and stressed that the “best solutions always come from working together.” King wants to use cooperation to change the approach to politics on PEI.
Kevin Arsenault, a journalist and activist, thinks people are looking for something new on PEI. He stressed his long history of promoting remedies to the problems we have on PEI as example of his competence. Arsenault believes his radical ideas will win over the audience by the end.
During the course of the otherwise very civilised night the biggest outburst actually came from former PEI Premier Pat Binns. The last PC Premier interrupted the emcee to request if the candidates could stand up when talking since much of the packed room couldn’t see him. The emcee could not meet his request.
The following are highlights from the many questions asked throughout the night.
On the question of improving healthcare, Sarah said we don’t have to reinvent the wheel and must learn from other jurisdictions. Dennis stressed reinvesting in rural services as a way of taking pressure off of the urban services and making a “fair and equitable healthcare system.”
Kevin believes that PNP and better international accreditation might attract more international healthcare workers.
On the question of how to get high-speed internet access across the island, all five candidates recognized how important it is, but gave little in terms of actual solutions.
Kevin and Dennis believe that working with smaller, local providers could fix the problems, with government help. Allan stressed his experience as an engineer, and believes most of the infrastructure is already in place, Allan furthermore promised high speed internet island-wide in the first 18 months of his government.
On a question of protecting our environment, more specifically how to address the Nova Scotia government allowing North Pulp to pour effluent into our common waters, all the candidates were indignant, and want to see the plan cancelled.
Shawn demanded a class 2 environmental assessment, Sarah believes that more scientists like herself need to be at the policy-making level. Dennis was perhaps most radical in suggesting “all legal levers be used” to stop or delay the project.
Further on environment, particularly a carbon tax, Kevin explicitly opposed a carbon tax. Dennis believes that a carbon tax is last thing we should do, maybe sometime in the future it’s an idea. Sarah stressed investing in renewable energy and mitigations like flood protections as opposed to a carbon tax.
On the question of lands use and the prevention of corporate monopolies on farmland, Allan aptly put that “industry can coexist with small farmers. Engagement is necessary to determine how land should be used. Land is crucial, they’re not making any more land.”
Shawn believes that the Lands Protection Act hasn’t been adequately enforced. Both Shawn and Dennis agreed that the act needs to be modernized for current land needs.
The final question was “do you commit to run for the PC party in the next provincial election, even if you do not win the leadership?”
An easy question for Sarah as she is already nominated in Charlottetown-Hillsborough, she humorously reiterated her intention to run.
Shawn stated his intention to seek the PC nomination in Charlottetown-West Royalty.
Both Allan and Dennis live in the riding of Brackley-Hunter River and stated they would not interfere with the other if they don’t win.
Kevin stated that he lives in Morell-Donagh, which is held by incumbent PC MLA Sidney MacEwen. Kevin humorously put that he “probably couldn’t even beat Sidney in a nomination race.” Kevin would look at other options in nearby districts if he wins.
Winning a seat is definitely on the mind of all five of these yet to be elected candidates. In 2015 PC Leader Rob Lantz failed to win his own seat by 22 votes.
In the closing remarks all the candidates spoke of the need to unite the party, work together, and truly listen to the people.
Kevin and Dennis stressed that time is of the essence and PEI needs their leadership now.
Sarah stressed that her actions give credence to her words, and that she means what she says.
Allan stressed his motto of “leadership, service, and action.”
Shawn was perhaps most stark when he said “this party is not in shape to win an election” and extolled that he would be “all in” and have the tough conversations.