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Dennis King aims to bring an outside perspective to P.E.I.'s top job

P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King has been around politics a long time, but when the writ dropped for the provincial election on March he had been a politician himself for just over five months.

Despite being around politics for decades, this will be the PC leader's first run for office

Dennis King has spent a lot of time around politics, but not in politics. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King has been around politics a long time, but when the writ dropped for the provincial election on March he had been a politician himself for just over five months.

He is finding it a very different experience.

"Nothing in life prepares you for politics on P.E.I.," said King.

"When I got into this I thought I would have drawn on a lot of the past experiences but I quickly realized that much of my past experience was just as an observer."

King became leader of the party on Feb. 9. Everyone knew then that an election was coming soon, but King has been campaigning since he announced his candidacy for the leadership in late November.

'Coming from the outside'

He's the rookie in a race where no party leader has more than four years' experience as an elected representative. He said he's been around government enough to know how it works, but separated enough to approach it differently.

"I do think coming from the outside into this is probably a good thing for Islanders," he said.

"It's great to have that perspective."

In the 1990's King joined the national council. It was the body given the task of bringing together the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties on the federal scene. 

Dennis King won the party leadership Feb. 9. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

"My reason to get involved in that was to make sure the progressive voice didn't get lost in the Conservative Party and I quickly realized it actually did get lost, and I didn't fulfill the full extent of my term," said King.

A career in communicating

He left the national council to work as director of communications in P.E.I. PC Premier Pat Binns's office. He moved away from politics when the Liberals came to power, but continued working in public relations. In 2014 he added entertainer to his resume, becoming a storyteller on the stage in Georgetown.

Despite his experience in communications, King admits to being a little anxious about knocking on that first door. He had no idea what to expect.

King talks to a voter in his home district. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

The first door turned out to be a happy surprise, the husband of a cousin of his, who gave him a warm welcome.

Hundreds or even thousands of doors later, he still can't be sure what he's going to hear, because the diversity views has been surprising to him.

"Most Islanders want to talk about themselves, the issues that are most concerning to them, and I'm shocked at how diverse those views and opinions are," he said.

Leading in a hurry

King has had little time to pull the party around him.

He's spent that time not just knocking on doors but also holding public meetings, consulting with Islanders about what should go in the party's platform.

It's been distilled down to one phrase, "It's about people."

"Many Islanders feel themselves disconnected from their government," he said.

"I want to see more Islanders involved in the process, more Islanders benefiting from a successful economy which we currently have."

As someone aiming for the job from outside the legislature, King believes he's in the best position to make that connection.

CBC P.E.I. will be speaking to all four leaders of P.E.I.'s political parties between April 8 and April 12.

More P.E.I. news

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story identified Mike Currie as a former federal cabinet minister. He was, in fact, a provincial cabinet minister.
    Apr 10, 2019 8:37 AM AT

With files from Island Morning

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