'The best is yet to come' says new P.E.I. PC leader Dennis King
'We're alive baby and we're coming to get you, here we go!'
Dennis King has won the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. on the second ballot.
At the leadership convention at the Eastlink Centre Saturday afternoon, a total of 4,222 votes were cast, eight of which were spoiled.
Shawn Driscoll received the lowest number of votes at 307 and was dropped from the first ballot. 4,136 voters made a second choice on the ballot, meaning the winner needed a total of 2,069 votes.
When votes were recalculated and the votes for Driscoll redistributed among the remaining four candidates, King came out on top with 2,071. Allan Dale received 803, Kevin Arsenault 661, and Sarah Stewart-Clark received 601.
'We don't have time to rest'
In his victory speech, King said he was overwhelmed and humbled by the win.
"What a testament to the renewal and the vigour of our party," King said, noting the large number of party members who voted in the leadership.
An election is looming, he said, and it is the party's job to come together to focus on that.
Maybe I haven't been elected before, but I've been around.— Dennis King
"I'm the first one to tell you I need your help," King said, inviting the other candidates to join him on the stage.
"We have momentum, we need to build on that momentum," he said, promising to meet soon with the party executive to arrange an ambitious schedule for district nominations and policy forums across the province.
"The best is yet to come," he said. "We're alive baby and we're coming to get you, here we go!"
He also called former leader James Aylward a "pillar of strength" and promised that "he's going to be a big man in this next government."
A spring election seems imminent, King said, and organizing the party for that is his priority, he said in an interview with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin.
"We are somewhat organized, we have some districts that are ready to go. I hope to be able to be in a position to release them as early as the middle of next week," King said.
King said he will seek to win a seat in the legislature in District 15: Brackley-Hunter River, where he lives, but said he will not take for granted that he will win just because he is the party's leader.
"I'll have some work to do," he said. "I feel like I'm up for the job but it is a daunting task."
Many of the candidates put forward ideas in their leadership bids that King said would make good planks of a party platform for the election. A successful platform will also include jobs and the economy, health care system improvements, and "figuring out some of these challenging land and water issues," he said.
He said his leadership style will be to empower other people to put forth their ideas for change. He said his caucus of eight is "a great foundation to build upon," and is "full of strong personalities and strong opinions." He said he won't be "barking orders" at them but will seek their opinions.
Even though he has never been elected, King noted he has plenty of political experience and is skilled in knowing how to work with people who have strong opinions.
"Maybe I haven't been elected before, but I've been around."
King served as director of communications for the last PC premier of P.E.I., Pat Binns.
'Just a boy from Georgetown Royalty'
King was first of the candidates to speak at the convention, describing himself as man of the people — "just a boy from Georgetown Royalty" — with values learned growing up in rural P.E.I.
"My name may be King but I don't believe in political coronations," King said. He's said he proud of the campaign he and the four other leadership candidates mounted and predicted they would leave the convention united, promising there's "room under a Dennis King tent" for his opponents.
"I want to lead with kindness, with compassion," King said, concluding, "I'm with you, I want you to be with me."
Record number of votes cast
Online voting began Feb. 1. For the first time for an Island political party, all of the ballots are being cast electronically.
This leadership race saw more votes cast than in any previous P.E.I. PC leadership convention.
Voting was being done using a preferential ballot. That means party members ranked candidates on their ballot in order of preference.
'Prouder than ever'
Prior to the candidate speeches, the outgoing leader said his goodbyes.
"Thank you from the bottom of my heart," said Aylward, who choked up during his upbeat farewell speech. "I'm prouder than ever to be a Progressive Conservative."
Aylward thanked his seven fellow caucus members for their "friendship and support." He said stepping down was not an easy decision.
"Getting a little tired of being in Opposition," Aylward said, adding he sees the "winds of change happening" to bring the PCs to power in the next election.
Aylward was chosen to lead the party at its last leadership convention in Oct. 2017, but announced less than a year later he would step down, saying he had "not been able to make a strong enough connection with Islanders." However Aylward is staying on as an MLA and said he intends to run in the next election.
King doesn't currently hold a seat in the provincial legislature — but may not have to wait long for a chance to win one.
A provincial election is expected as early as this spring.
"They don't have much time, the new leader in the party, to get out there and meet Islanders and make a positive impression … to get themselves known and connect with the voting public," said UPEI political science professor Peter McKenna.
"That's going to be a challenge for them."
The provincial cabinet set the wheels in motion for an early election by designating Feb. 1 as the start of P.E.I.'s referendum period, giving government eight months from that date to hold an election.
Islanders will vote in a referendum on changing their electoral system along with the next election.
King said he plans to vote for the Mixed Member Proportional system of voting in the election-day referendum.
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With files from Kerry Campbell and Nicole Williams