Newfoundland and Labrador will likely not be going to the polls in 2014, no matter who wins the Tory leadership later this month.

All three candidates indicated during an On Point leadership debate that they are not in favour of a snap election to ride any potential post-convention honeymoon period to the polls.

By law, a provincial election must be called within a year of the new leader being chosen and sworn in as premier.

The Tories introduced that legislation a decade ago, after spending two-and-a-half years criticizing Liberal Roger Grimes as an “unelected” premier.

'We’ve got to rebuild our party. We’ve got to rebuild our government. And we’ve got to rebuild our brand. It takes some time to do that.' - Paul Davis

The three candidates currently vying for the PC leadership see no reason to rush to the ballot box.

“We have a clear mandate to govern,” contender Steve Kent said. “We still have the majority of the seats in the House of Assembly.”

Kent said he would want time as the new leader to rebuild and get party organization in place on the ground.

He said he would like to enact policies he has discussed during the campaign, and bring down a budget. That traditionally happens in the spring.

Paul Davis also advocated for a longer period before going to the polls.

“We’ve got to rebuild our party,” Davis said. “We’ve got to rebuild our government. And we’ve got to rebuild our brand. It takes some time to do that.”

John Ottenheimer agreed.

“I want to make a meaningful contribution,” Ottenheimer noted. “We need time to develop policies.”

Debate a collegial affair

The hour-long debate was a collegial affair. All three candidates largely agreed with each other, with very few moments of even mild friction evident between them.

They made their pitch to PC delegates and the province's voters in the middle of another week of bad news for the Tories.

There are now as many senior cabinet ministers set to depart in the coming weeks as there are candidates seeking to take on the party’s top job.

'May I put it this way: they like us, the public of Newfoundland and Labrador, they like us, but they have trouble loving us. We have to turn that around.' - John Ottenheimer

And a new poll dropped the PCs more than 30 points behind the Liberals among decided voters.

The candidates stressed another number in that poll, the 62 per cent satisfaction rating for the government’s performance.

“May I put it this way: they like us, the public of Newfoundland and Labrador, they like us, but they have trouble loving us,” Ottenheimer said.

“We have to turn that around.”

Davis said he believes it comes down to better communications.

“We have a lot of work to do," Davis said. "There’s no doubt about that."

Kent, meanwhile, said he is the best choice to bring about renewal and change within the party, noting that he has unveiled more policy proposals than his opponents.

"People want something new," Kent said. "They want something different and fresh and bold, and I believe I am that leader."

Questioned about health, jobs, demographics

For many questions on the policy front, the candidates opted to speak more in generalities than iron-clad plans.

On the health issue, for example, the Tory trio called for a renewed focus on preventative measures.

Davis said work needs to be done to make the system more efficient. While he was short on specifics, he advocated bringing front-line workers together in a health-care forum for “a very frank and open discussion.”

Ottenheimer also said they need to work more closely with regional authorities and health-care professionals.

Kent advocated what he called an innovative approach, including expanding the role of pharmacists and telehealth, and ensuring rural access to care within a reasonable distance.

As for rural unemployment, the candidates acknowledged there are areas of the province that don’t feel they have benefitted from the oil and resources boom, saying it’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

'We need to look at family-friendly policies.' - Steve Kent

Kent put the most meat on the policy bones, saying he plans to launch a public-private partnership, a business incubator called Imagine Newfoundland and Labrador.

Asked about demographic challenges and keeping young families living and working in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ottenheimer stressed the importance of instilling a new sense of confidence in them.

Kent jumped in: “With all due respect to my colleague, I think it needs to be more specific than that … We need to look at family-friendly policies.” Those include the creation of more child-care spaces, and making care more affordable, along with a stronger education system.

Davis said the demographic challenge will remain significant in the years to come, but stressed the importance of educating young people. That includes teaching high school students about things like basic life skills, such as personal finance, that will help them make decisions.