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SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. – The gloves weren’t completely off at the second Progressive Conservative leadership debate. The candidates shared both laughs and banter Monday night while questions were thrown their way.
At the event, Island PC leadership candidates Allan Dale, Sarah Stewart-Clark, Shawn Driscoll, Kevin Arsenault and Dennis King, were given another opportunity to discuss their vision for the future of the party and government.
In the first debate, candidates agreed on topics more than the contrary but at the second, held at Credit Union Place in Summerside, the candidates went down different paths when it came to their positions on proportional representation (PR).
Islanders are having the wrong conversation about electoral reform, said leadership hopeful Stewart-Clark.
“We should be finding ways to make sure the legislature and its working committees are working to do the best,” she said.
King was the sole candidate to state that he would vote in support of PR in a referendum.
“I think Islanders are looking for something more reflective of Island views.”
Dale said Islanders have lost trust in the political system.
“Proportional representation is a Band-Aid on the problem," Dale said.
When asked about concerns of water use and deep-water wells, many of the candidates said the science would speak for itself. But Arsenault said it’s time to “turn the tap off” with respect to deep-water wells.
“The reality is we need to take a precautionary principle," said Arsenault. "The onus should be on the Cavendish Farms, the Robert Irvings to prove that (deep-water wells) are safe, the onus isn’t on us to prove that.”
The recent closure of the emergency department of Western Hospital in Alberton, as well as the family doctor shortage were also up for debate.
The candidates were asked what specific changes they would make to the patient registry to make it more responsive to the needs of the thousands of Islanders without a family doctor.
“There are 16,000 people on that list. How many people have given up and aren’t on it?" asked Driscoll. "I think the number is larger than we’ve been told. If you don’t have family doctor, you’re in a serious situation because you rely on emergency room or walk-in services."
“Every Islander deserves world-class health care," said Dale. "The best way to recruit doctors is through doctors. Doctors bring doctors to this Island, but we can’t expect them to go into rural communities if they don’t have internet or there’s no place for their kids to go to school. We need to continue to grow the infrastructure.
“I had the privilege of recruiting doctors for the Canadian forces… If I can recruit doctors for Afghanistan, I can recruit them for Prince County.”
PC party member Leonard Russell attended the debate to hear each candidate's individual platform and thoughts on today’s policies.
“Some of the questions that were asked were hard to give answers to," said Russell. "Like the health care one, we realize that the system needs to be re-jigged, we can’t keep going down the with same thing year after year. But if we continue to get the same answer, we’re not going to see change.”
He said he admired all the candidates for their ability to put themselves forward.
“I was impressed with Sarah Stewart-Clark. I thought her answers showed her experience in working with the public.”
Russell said he would have liked to see a broader question about education rather than the one about TOSH and the safety concerns during the Summerside high school's renovation periods.
“A more general question about education needed to be asked. Not long ago, the government made the decision to close some schools, and then they backed away from the decision. But what is the plan going forward with education?”
At the recent PC Leadership debate candidates were given two minutes to introduce themselves, answer four prepared questions, and several from the crowd. When that was over, the were given time for their closing statements. Here are the final words:
– Allan Dale: “Now, more than ever, we need a steady hand on that tiller to help us navigate through these waters that face us… I have that proven, tested leadership skills to take this party into government… we deserve an alternative to what we’ve had for the last decade.”
– Sarah Stewart-Clark: “Now is the time for our party to choose a leader with the courage and conviction to make the hard decisions. A leader who has shown she can work collaboratively with community leaders, and a leader who stands up for every Islander.”
– Shawn Driscoll: “You can’t be drafted to lead – you have to be all in. I say to you here and now – I am all in and ready to lead our party into government and Islanders into a promising future.”
– Kevin Arsenault: “The time for the honour systemin government is over in this province. We need to put these policies, mechanisms and reforms in place to make sure people with good intentions can act on them and they don’t get side tracked once they get elected.”
– Dennis King: “I’ve shared my values, I’ve answered your questions honestly and thoroughly, this is who I am, Dennis King, running to be leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Prince Edward Island.”