P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan aims for 'rejuvenation' Island in 2016

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan says there's a single principle that should be at the core of the Island's approach to the economy, its population, and its government.

Premier touches on economy, population and electoral reform in year-end interview

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan says the Island's population is aging 'faster than is good for us.' (CBC)

P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan says there's a single principle that should be at the core of the Island's approach to the economy, its population, and its government: rejuvenation.

"If there's a single thing that I believe we all have to aim for in 2016 and beyond, it's rejuvenation," he said in a wide-ranging year-end interview with CBC News: Compass host Bruce Rainnie.

After the provincial election in May, MacLauchlan became the first gay man to serve as premier in Canada. It was an issue that made more of a splash outside the province after the election than it ever did during the campaign.

MacLauchlan said it shouldn't have come as a surprise.

"We were the first province in Canada to elect a woman as premier, to elect a premier of non-European descent," he said.

"It shows that Prince Edward Islanders are after one thing, and that's effective leadership ... Prince Edward Islanders know me. They know what I can bring to the table."

The economy

Since the spring campaign, MacLauchlan has focused on exports — improving the balance of trade on the Island — as a key driver of the economy.

He said some good progress has already been made: the Island leads the country in export growth, with a strong mix of food, aerospace and bioscience products making up that growth.

But he cautioned that the province is still behind Canada as a whole when it comes to exports.

"Unless Prince Edward Island is doing better than the Canadian average, then we'll never catch up," he said.

MacLauchlan also cautiously pointed out that the trade imbalance is not all about products.

"One of the reasons that we have this balance of trade problem, or that we spend more outside the province than we spend locally, is the snowbirds," he said.

"It's a huge part of the P.E.I. economy with incomes that are being earned here being spent in Florida."

He understands why some look to escape the Island winter, but asked snowbirds to consider spending a little more time and money in their home province.

The population

P.E.I. might be the youngest province in Atlantic Canada, but it's still considerably older than the Canadian average.

"We're aging faster than is good for us," MacLauchlan said.

The Island has stayed as young as it is primarily thanks to immigration, he said, which is why it's important to welcome immigrants and, particularly in the short term, Syrian refugees.

He dismissed the criticism that the province should help Islanders before extending itself to help others.

"We have to recognize that the people who are coming are not going to be needy or poor for all of their lives. They have a contribution to make," he said.

"To have new people come here, to bring their contributions, to intend to do well for themselves and their families ... that's how we prosper as a province."

Electoral reform

When it comes to rejuvenating government, the new Liberal administration has already launched an electoral reform process, with a plebiscite planned for next year.

"My point in electoral reform is that more people should see that their votes count," said MacLauchlan.

A white paper on democratic renewal, released in July, focused on a ranked ballot system of voting. Islanders will also be given a choice of a proportional representation system, but MacLauchlan isn't keen on that option.

"I'm not a believer in proportional representation," he said.

"I think it would give us minority governments in perpetuity. We've never had one on Prince Edward Island and we have an active and effective democracy."

MacLauchlan noted the province leads the country in voter turnout, indicating a high level of interest in politics.

"We shouldn't be trying to upset the apple cart or to completely change what has been a system that, frankly, has people engaged," he said.

Re-election on the radar

MacLauchlan said he would run for re-election in 2019.

That would potentially put him over the age of 65 before he completes his term as premier. As president of the University of Prince Edward Island, MacLauchlan strongly supported mandatory retirement for professors at 65.

"What I was in favour of at UPEI, and continue to be, is simple: renewal," he said.

"In our population, in our economy, in our government, in everything that we're doing, we have to think about what our young people are doing, how we can make ourselves younger as an overall population of Prince Edward Islanders, and I'm prepared to do that as a 65-year-old premier."


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