Newly confirmed P.E.I. Liberal Leader Wade MacLauchlan turned to the words of Island songwriter Stompin' Tom Connors to inspire his party for a campaign expected this spring.
"As Stompin’ Tom has taught us, 'If ya don't get at it when ya get to it, you won't get to it to get at it again,'" said MacLauchlan.
MacLauchlan was the only candidate for the leadership, and the convention Saturday afternoon was a formality. He will be sworn in as premier on Monday morning, along with a new cabinet. He replaces Robert Ghiz, who announced in November he would resign pending the election of a new leader.
MacLauchlan, the former president of the University of Prince Edward Island, has been criticized for not laying out more details of his agenda as he moves into government. He was short on specifics Saturday as well, but did present the pillars of a strategy for a provincial election campaign expected in the spring: economic growth, demographic change, and open government.
"Prosperity starts with growing our economy," he said.
"The fastest and most sustainable way we can do that is to build on our success stories, to increase sales of our goods and services to other provinces and internationally."
Immigration central to population strategy
On demographic change, MacLauchlan said the province must continue in its recent successes in attracting immigrants. The province has to do better at retaining its own talented and most mobile people, and encouraging expatriate Islanders to return.
"We cannot prosper without an effective population strategy," he said.
MacLauchlan directly addressed the growing Chinese population on P.E.I., speaking in Mandarin wishing them a happy new year.
The Chinese population could be a significant factor in the coming election, especially in Charlottetown. There is the potential for thousands of new Chinese Canadians voting for the first time in the capital city.
Innovation in open government
On the subject of open government, MacLauchlan said it was critical for citizen engagement. While the province leads the country in voter participant, he noted, the Island must strive to do better.
"We have an opportunity to be innovators in making government data open and accessible," he said.
MacLauchlan also took time to highlight how much he has travelled since announcing for the Liberal leadership on Nov. 28.
He said he has covered 10,000 kilometres, including two kilometres on Wednesday to get from his home to a ploughed road. He has met with farmers and fishermen, food processors, and manufacturers, and visited schools, group homes, family violence shelters, food banks, and organizations offering services for addictions and mental health.
MacLauchlan made a point about collaboration while discussing his successes as president of UPEI.
'My leadership will be collaborative. And our Liberal party will take the high road.' - Wade MacLauchlan
During his 12 years as university president, he said, enrolments doubled and research activity increased five-fold. He said he was able to achieve this growth despite different parties ruling in Charlottetown and Ottawa for 11 of the 12 years he was president, and that federal-provincial collaboration was essential for that growth.
"I know about working together," he said.
"My leadership will be collaborative. And our Liberal party will take the high road. We will call on our better nature. And we will call on others to be better natured."
MacLauchlan is an academic with no political experience. Opposition parties paint him as an elitist, out of touch with ordinary Islanders. Some Islanders have taken issue with the fact MacLauchlan did not have to compete for the leadership.
MacLauchlan will be sworn in as premier on Monday. He is hoping to put a fresh face on the P.E.I. Liberals, while holding onto the sizable lead they've enjoyed in the polls under Ghiz.
Next Saturday , the opposition Tories choose their new leader, setting the stage for an election expected this spring.
Outgoing premier Robert Ghiz hasn't said what his plans are, but has ruled out a jump to federal politics for now.