Next Prince Edward Island has been criss-crossing the province speaking to Islanders
The Guardian will have extensive coverage of today’s Liberal leadership convention.
Coverage begins with our Cover it Live blog from the convention floor Saturday afternoon at www.theguardian.pe.ca. We will also have stories, photos and video highlights as Liberals elect their next leader and premier of Prince Edward Island.
There will also be a complete package on the convention in the Monday print and e-editions of The Guardian.
Soon-to-be P.E.I. Premier Wade MacLauchlan is happy to chat about the weather or your family connections on the Island, but ask him for details about his plan for P.E.I. and he becomes cautious, reserved and will kindly ask you to stay tuned.
The Guardian spent a day with MacLauchlan this week as he continues to travel across the Island, meeting and speaking with residents in preparation for taking over as premier next week.
He was jovial and welcoming, providing intimate access to his full day, which was filled with campaign stops and events. But when pressed for details about how he plans to achieve some of his primary goals for the province, he remained as elusive as he has for the last two months since declaring his intention to become the next premier.
He began his day snowshoeing from his home in West Covehead about two kilometres to the nearest plowed road, as his own road was still impassible from the most recent blast of winter that dumped over 80 centimetres of snow over most of the Island.
Indeed, the record snowfall was the talk of every coffee shop, sidewalk and community centre he visited throughout the day, as this was the first day many Islanders were able to leave their homes after the storm.
MacLauchlan got his first coffee of the day at the Tim Horton’s in Stratford. He chatted easily with patrons, making a point to spend a few moments with each person there.
He made the same effort at his next stop at the Salvation Army in Charlottetown. The room smelled of stale cigarette smoke as people gathered at circular tables drinking hot coffee and eating donuts and pastries. MacLauchlan went to each table, sitting down at some of them to introduce himself and listen to anything the individuals wished to share.
He then sat down with corps officer Capt. Jamie Locke, who informed MacLauchlan of the current operations and programs offered by the Salvation Army to some of P.E.I.’s most vulnerable. Locke also ensured the future premier knew where the Sally Ann could use some additional help.
MacLauchlan, sitting on a nearby chair, leaned his whole body forward as he listened to the concerns and needs. But he was careful not to offer any promises.
He was shuffled off to his next stop at Hashem’s Grocery for a short visit, then to the Cornwall town hall, where his team had organized a meet-and-greet to offer residents a chance to meet their incoming premier.
The majority of attendees were party members. The two people contesting the Liberal nomination for retiring Liberal MLA Ron MacKinley’s seat were also there, working the room. MacLauchlan again ensured he spoke to everyone in attendance, but did so with neither the brassy polish of a career politician nor the uneasiness of a political rookie.
He was friendly, casual and easy to talk to, often the one approached by those who wanted to talk to him. He is taller than just about everyone he encounters, but compensates by hunching his head and neck downward, often folding his hands behind his back, appearing fully engaged in whoever is doing the talking.
He showcased his friendly folksiness at a similar meet-and-greet later in Mount Stewart. At this event, he was assisted by the local area MLA, former PC party leader-tuned-independent MLA Olive Crane. She hugged every person in the room, including MacLauchlan, whom she has previously endorsed. The two easily won over the crowd, who were more interested in figuring out MacLauchlan’s family lineage than drilling their future premier on policy.
MacLauchlan says that’s the way it has been everywhere he has gone – more “who’s your father” than “where’s your platform?”
At one point in the day, however, he encountered a young man who told MacLauchlan of his difficulties in finding work.
This is one area MacLauchlan did highlight as one of his priorities when taking office — to find ways of creating meaningful employment opportunities for young people in order to keep them from leaving the province.
“Probably the most concerning thing is something we have been doing for a long time, which is to have a lot of our most mobile and talented students spend their productive years elsewhere,” he said.
“If we could restructure that or change that trend line, it would be positive. We would also be getting at what is one of the subordinate challenges, which is an aging population.”
Creating prosperity is the key to keeping young people here, he said. Indeed, prosperity and population will be his primary focus as premier.
For P.E.I. to prosper, it must grow its economy and increase population, MacLauchlan asserts.
“They are two very, very big issues where Prince Edward Island hasn’t done as well for a long time, or as well as I hope to be able to.”
As a target for economic growth, MacLauchlan focuses on the current trade deficit that sees the Island economy spend $1.5 billion more in the purchase of goods and services than it earns in exports.
“When it comes to the total expenditure on goods and services, we send more money out than we collect. It’s a very basic proposition, and the difference, even if we could close the gap, every one of those dollars would be new. And I think one of the things that a premier can do is do some collective thinking and education about what really does make our economy work.”
But as for details about just how he hopes to achieve this, that is what MacLauchlan is keeping close to his chest.
He says he understands people’s frustration with not having a clear idea of where he stands on many issues, but he feels it is more appropriate to wait until he is actually on the government payroll and has had a chance to speak to his Liberal caucus and consult more with Islanders before making declarations on policy.
“I have a direction and I have standards and I have things that I want to achieve. I think that’s really the key — rather than asking someone who is going to be premier if they have a plan, I think the real question is what’s the measure of success for the province as a whole?”
And what is Wade MacLauchlan’s measure of success as a whole for P.E.I.?
“I’m not saying that this afternoon. But I think that’s the question.”
MacLauchlan is scheduled to be sworn in as premier on Monday, Feb. 23.