When Dr. Seuss's The Lorax and Anne of Green Gables arise in a debate, you wonder if the topic is the most colourful characters from children's books instead of provincial politics.
But so it was Monday night at CBC's P.E.I. Votes 2015: Leaders' Debate, hosted by Compass host Bruce Rainnie.
The debate brought together the four party leaders: Peter Bevan-Baker for the Green Party, Rob Lantz for the Progressive Conservative Party, Wade MacLauchlan for the Liberal Party and Mike Redmond for the NDP.
The event, which ran an hour and a half, saw the leaders debate a wide range of topics.
We've narrowed them down to a few key questions pre-submitted from the CBC audience that prompted some interesting exchanges.
Would you support a process to reduce the number of MLAs in the legislature?
It was noted that P.E.I. has 27 MLAs for a population of 140,000. Ontario, meanwhile, has 107 MLAS for 13.6 million people. Proportionally, P.E.I. would have 700 MLAs.
Redmond said he "absolutely" would reduce the number to 15.
"For three years I've said we have too many MLAs."
MacLauchlan noted that the Elections Act requires an evaluation of electoral boundaries between the election May 4 and the next election. Within the first 24 months of a Liberal mandate he said he would establish a commission to consider the number of MLAs, what they're paid, determine electoral boundaries and work on "ways we might invigorate the democratic process."
Bevan-Baker gave an outright no in answer to the question. He suggested running a legislature required numbers. He said MLAs represent the "tiniest percentage of the provincial budget" and that the civil service needs to be reduced, not by slashing and burning, but doing it thoughtfully and with a plan.
Lantz said although he would be willing to consider fewer politicians, but added, "Just because we're a smaller province, doesn't mean we have smaller problems."
He said P.E.I. needs a "critical mass" to run the essential services. He agreed with MacLauchlan that the electoral boundaries process is the time to consider reducing MLA numbers.
What makes you best qualified of the four leaders to be premier of P.E.I.?
Bevan-Baker started by saying, "I wouldn't want to assume I am."
The Green party leader said he leads by example, he knows he can inspire people, but that he's aware of his limitations and knows when he has to seek help from an expert or the general population.
He said he "believes in the genius of the collective will" and would go to his constituents to seek input on all of his decisions.
Lantz said he is the only one of the four who has been elected to any level of government, having spent eight years as a Charlottetown councillor. He said he solved problems in the private-sector "and that is exactly what this province needs." He also said he listens and then consults.
MacLauchlan made a dig at Lantz's comment that he was the only one having served in government.
"I bring leadership and experience, including having been elected to local council," he said.
MacLauchlan said he's not in the race to build a political career or to get a pension.
"I'm in here to make a difference."
Redmond said it's important for leaders to surround themselves with good people, not micro-manage and ensure people have a voice. He said leaders need to look at issues through a different lens, in particular, those issues faced by aboriginal people and those with disabilities.
"We're the only party that has that diversity in our team."
How much will your campaign promises cost to implement and where will you get the money?
Lantz was first to answer. He said the net cost for the PCs would be about $17.8 million. The largest expenditure is tax relief in the form of a nine per cent reduction in electricity rates.
"We chose that deliberately because the Liberal government ran last time around with the promise not to implement the HST," said Lantz. "So this is only based on fairness that we give some measure of relief from that decision."
He said the PCs could balance the budget in three years.
Redmond said it would cost the NDP $30 million to deliver on his promises and countered that Lantz had promised a basic income guarantee, saying it isn't in the PC platform.
"He promised a million trees to be planted. Unless this is The Lorax, those trees cost money to plant." (In the Dr. Seuss book, the character The Lorax speaks for the trees against a greedy industrialist.)
In the rebuttal, Lantz countered that he ran a company that planted two million trees in P.E.I. and that he had personally planted 150,000 trees in the province.
"I know what it costs to plant trees and it's been costed in our platform."
MacLauchlan said the Liberals pegged their costs at $30 million as well and had the most "modest" program put forward for fiscal responsibility in many elections.
He said the party's new operating costs total $20 million, with $10 million in new capital costs. Eighty per cent of the entire amount would go to health, education and human services. He said that's 1.25 per cent of the province's annual total spending. He said it's possible to move toward a balanced budget and to manage the affairs and priorities of Islanders.
Bevan-Baker said "throwing out numbers" are "inherently inaccurate and unsupportable" because external factors that affect the cost of programs suggested now are outside of their control – interest rates, federal transfers, the global economy.
He said the Green Party thinks long term and considers up-front costs to be "investments." He used health as an example.
"If we were to invest in preventative measures, it would save the province in the long term."
What is one policy, incentive or campaign promise you've heard from an opposing leader that you most identify with and would like to see government adopt?
Redmond said that all the leaders had spoken about a basic income guarantee and he felt the parties could work together to "bring people up out of poverty."
MacLauchlan selected the farmland trust initiative in the Green platform that is recommend by Horace Carver and his commission on land ownership, which allows the government to buy large agricultural properties and lease out smaller parcels to farmers just getting started.
Bevan-Baker said he couldn't pick one initiative, but he would welcome the suggestion Redmond put forward earlier in the debate that government become more collaborative.
Lantz struck back that he had hoped Bevan-Baker would pick his idea "to allow third and fourth parties to sit on legislative committees to provide a broader spectrum of political voices around the table."
Bevan-Baker retorted, "We will get to the legislative all by ourselves thank you very much."
Lantz chose his own party's promise, an idea also put forth by the Greens, to enact whistleblower legislation.
MacLauchlan said it's better done through policy and working collaboratively with the public service so employees feel they can report to their superiors. In jurisdictions where legislation had been brought in, very little whistleblowing actually took place.
In response, Lantz said, "Who can argue with whistleblower legislation? My own question is: Mr. MacLauchlan, what are you afraid of?"
To which MacLauchlan said, "Not you."
Probably the most amusing volley of the night took place during the closing statements.
Bevan-Baker said when the electorate gets fed up with the red team, they vote for the blue team and vice-versa.
"And consequently we've had many decades of poison ping-pong politics here in Prince Edward Island."
He quipped voters should take a cue from red-haired fictional character Anne of Green Gables.
"Did she dye her hair blue? No. She went green."
MacLauchlan then reminded Bevan-Baker that Anne went back to her red hair.