PC leadership candidates face final debate, end of membership drive

Heading into the final day to sell party memberships, the five candidates to be the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. traded a few barbs at the Murphy Centre in Charlottetown.

Party members can begin ranking candidates in online vote starting Feb. 1

(from left) Dennis King, Allan Dale, Sarah-Stewart Clark, Shawn Driscoll and Kevin Arsenault. All voting in the leadership convention will be electronic, using a ranked ballot. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Heading into the final day to sell party memberships, the five candidates to be the next leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. traded a few barbs at the Murphy Centre in Charlottetown Thursday night in the last of three leadership debates.

While most of the night candidates were more likely to agree with one another — several rebuttals began with one candidate declaring another candidate was right — there were a few notable disagreements.

In terms of how to deal with the prospect of an early election, Dennis King, as he has in the past, advocated for a non-confrontational approach to politics for the Tories.

"I'm not fighting anyone, I'm not fighting an election, I'm not fighting other parties," he said, adding it was time for the party "to stop looking at the negative and to find the positive."

No time for hand-holding, comes rebuttal

In contrast, Kevin Arsenault portrayed the next election as a life-or-death struggle.

"It's pretty hard to just stand up and say, 'Let's all hold hands' when someone has their foot on your neck," Arsenault said.

The five candidates for the leadership of the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Party faced off in the final of three official debates Thursday night at the Murphy Centre in Charlottetown. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

Arsenault drew whoops from the crowd of about 300 with his frequent pledges to stamp out corruption in government, including one suggestion to cut millions in spending within weeks of forming government by "getting rid of a few crooks and fraudsters, saving the salaries and the benefits and the pensions."

Candidates asked about housing

For the first time during this series of debates candidates were asked how they would deal with the province's current shortage of affordable housing.

"We have women and children who are living in tents, in green spaces," said Sarah Stewart-Clark.

"We have Islanders who are staying in situations of domestic violence because there's nowhere for them to live. We have many seniors who are living in homes without any heat whatsoever."

Stewart-Clark said one of the problems was a lack of public transit which could connect new housing units in further-flung areas with services and employment in cities and towns.

"In my own district, in the city of Charlottetown, the city bus doesn't even go to the end of my district, for people to live in that part of the district."

Airbnb targeted

Allan Dale said Stewart-Clark was "bang-on" on the need for transit, and added more fixes to the list.

"Airbnb, that technology came in and it took 600 units off the market, and then we've got IRAC over-regulating the people that want to rent, so there's a lot of things here that we can correct," Dale said.

"We need to unravel this situation. How did we get here? Did we have unsustainable growth to begin with? What did we do wrong?"

Shawn Driscoll said the introduction of the HST on P.E.I. drove up construction costs and that drove up rental costs.

About 300 attended the debate. (Kerry Campbell/CBC)

He said some units which might be referred to as 'affordable' are out-of-reach for many in the province with the lowest wages in Canada.

"If I'm making minimum wage here, that won't cover a thousand dollars. So these thousand-dollar units that they're putting up aren't affordable for people making minimum wage."

Driscoll pointed to his proposal to increase the basic personal exemption to $11,500 as one way to "put more money in your pocket so you can pay for your rent."

A pair of "short snapper" questions showed all five candidates in agreement, saying they would commit to the creation of a child advocate office on P.E.I., and reinstate elected school boards in the province.

Membership drive closing

The deadline for each campaign to sign up new supporters to the PC Party falls at 4 p.m. Friday. After that no new members can be signed up and be able to vote, but lapsed members from the past four years can renew right up until the end of voting on the afternoon of convention day Feb. 9.

The vote is using a preferential ballot, meaning members rank the candidates in order of preference and there will only be one round of voting.

All voting is electronic using PIN numbers sent to each party member. The party says those electronic votes may be cast starting at 9 a.m. Feb. 1.

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About the Author

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.


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