CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Although it may still be an unofficial race, several candidates confirmed they are seeking the leadership of the PC Party at an annual general meeting this weekend.
Dennis King, Allan Dale, Sarah Stewart-Clark, Shawn Driscoll and Kevin Arsenault all confirmed they either have submitted or are in the midst of completing the necessary paperwork required of leadership candidates. PC Party members will vote for a new leader at a leadership convention on February 9th at the Eastlink Centre.
Leadership hopefuls are required to submit the signatures of 100 current party members – 30 from each county – as well as a payment of $7500 before they are evaluated by the party’s vetting committee.
According to long time party volunteer Muriel Power, who has seen the party’s fortunes rise and fall over the years, the leadership race has injected new energy into the party.
“It’s just a different feeling this time,” Power said.
“It’s just upbeat, lots of candidates coming forward, new members signing up. It’s all encouraging.”
Power said the number of candidates who have begun to step forward dwarfed the last leadership contest in the fall of 2017. James Aylward and Rustico-Emerald MLA Brad Trivers were the only two candidates. Aylward won the leadership but announced he would resign earlier this fall. Under Aylward’s tenure, the party had seen its public support drop from 28 per cent in November of 2017 to 20 per cent in August of 2018.
Some of the leadership hopefuls have begun to define their vision for the party, as well as their leadership style.
Allan Dale is the only possible candidate to have submitted his application so far. The retired naval officer says he was drawn to the PC party because it aligned with his values.
“Being involved in serving my country, serving my community is a big part of who I am,” Dale said.
“What I see in the PC Party is really a party that’s eager to bring that sense of service back into government.”
Sarah Stewart-Clark is the only candidate for leadership who is currently a nominated candidate. She was uncontested for the party’s nomination in Charlottetown-Hillsborough.
She emphasized that, despite a strong economy on P.E.I., too many are falling behind.
“My focus is not on this booming economy – which is great, that has to happen – but for me the success of P.E.I. does not depend on the success of the one per cent,” Stewart-Clark said.
Kevin Arsenault said his background and experience, which includes a doctorate in philosophy and ethics from McGill University, will serve him well in a leadership race.
The past president of the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers said there is a lack of transparency and accountability from the current government of Premier Wade MacLauchlan.
“If anything, this government has been more secretive and less transparent,” Arsenault said.
Arsenault said a key component of his platform will involve a plan for a land bank on P.E.I. that will preserve farm land and soil health.
At 34 years of age, Shawn Driscoll is the youngest potential candidate to step forward. The former policy advisor for past-MP Gail Shea said he is working on his submission for the party leadership.
Driscoll said he believes the PC Party needs to return to its roots if it wants to win government.
“We’ve strayed from our principals, our core values – lower taxes, less government and supports for families. I think we need to get back to our basics,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll surprised some within the party in 2015 by besting current mayoral candidate Cecil Villard and retired Charlottetown police chief Richard Collins in a nomination battle in West Royalty-Springvale.
But Dennis King believes that Island voters are looking for something different. King served as the chief of communications during the Pat Binns government in the 1990’s. He says many younger voters care little for the partisan divisions that have carved up P.E.I. politics in the past.
“Having worked in it, having covered it, having watched it all my life, partisan politics is stifling our growth as a province. I think people are really, really tired of it,” King said.
“I think we have to get away from red – ‘bad,’ blue – ‘good,’ green – ‘we’re afraid of it.’”
Aside from the coming leadership campaign, the party could be facing other challenges.
In his financial report to the membership, party treasurer Ryan Pineau said the PC Party currently has a debt of $100,000. This is down from its debt of $400,000 after the end of the 2015 election.