The Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. will announce a new leader today.
Five candidates are in the running to replace current leader James Aylward, who announced in September he would step down.
They have just wrapped up their speeches at the convention at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown and a new leader should be announced by 3:45 p.m.
CBC News will have live coverage from the convention on our website, starting at 3:15.
The five candidates running are Kevin Arsenault, Allan Dale, Shawn Driscoll, Dennis King and Sarah Stewart-Clark.
Dennis King was first to speak, 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.”
Alan Dale was next to take the stage. The candidate who is at UPEI’s school of design and sustainable engineering said the province needs to focus on the economy, environment and communities.
“We need to revolutionize our primary industries,” Dale said. “And then we need to ignite and properly focus on our emerging industries.”
He said he wants to see shipbuilding brought back to P.E.I. and position the province as a global leader.
“Leadership, service and action, these are my core principles,” Dale said, adding that he wanted to create of a “global centre of excellence” that would focus on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
Kevin Arsenault invited his supporters on stage holding Kevin Arsenault signs. A woman sang the Island Hymn, followed by a young step-dancer.
Arsenault described himself as the “anti-corruption candidate” with the highest integrity and ethics. His speech repeatedly referred to what he called “widespread corruption in government,” and promised an ombudsman and legislation that would allow voters to “kick delinquent MLAs to the curb.”
“We need to clean up government, and I believe that’s what I can do as your leader,” Arsenault said, predicting that the PCs would form the next government.
“This is the time to set priorities,” said Shawn Driscoll after he took the stage. “I will renew this party. I will bring the next generation of leaders.”
Driscoll repeatedly criticized Premier Wade MacLauchlan, saying he was buying voters with government spending.
The PC party needs to be open and accessible to both urban and rural Islanders, he said.
He also promised to get rid of the Municipalities Act and lower income taxes.
“You already pay enough,” Driscoll said.
Sarah Stewart-Clark described herself as the trustworthy choice and a person whom Islanders already see as capable of being premier.
“I can tell you that after travelling this province, Islanders see our PC Party and me as leader as the team they want to partner with to move us all forward — we are going to rise and we are going to rise together,” said Stewart-Clark. “People trust me to lead in an intelligent, prudent and honest way forward.”
Stewart-Clark was the only candidate to address the crowd in French.
She said she would honour free votes by MLAs in the legislature and restore elected school boards and local decision-making in health care. She also promised to reduce taxes.
“We are stepping forward to take back our province.”
More than 3,000 votes cast in advance
Online voting began Feb. 1. For the first time for an Island political party, all of the ballots are being cast online.
Voting ends at 3:15 p.m. with the announcement of the winner expected shortly thereafter.
At 3:15 p.m. Friday the party said 3,155 party members had already cast a ballot for leader — more than in any previous P.E.I. PC leadership convention. As of around 2:45 Saturday, 4,114 votes had been cast.
Voting is being done using a preferential ballot. That means party members can rank anywhere from one to all five candidates on their ballot in order of preference.
It also means only one round of voting will be required.
‘Prouder than ever’
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said Aylward, who choked up during his upbeat farewell speech on stage Saturday. “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.
None of the five candidates currently has a seat in the provincial legislature — but the winner may not have to wait long for a chance to win a seat.
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.
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