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Voting in P.E.I. PC leadership race begins this weekend

PC party president Margaret Anne Walsh says she is happy with the interest level in the leadership campaign, but acknowledges getting the public’s attention in the summer was challenging.
PC party president Margaret Anne Walsh says she is happy with the interest level in the leadership campaign, but acknowledges getting the public’s attention in the summer was challenging.

Voting is set to begin this weekend for the Progressive Conservative leadership, but party officials appear to be struggling to get a normally engaged Island electorate excited about the race.

So far only half of eligible party members have renewed their memberships to allow them to vote. Of the 6,600 eligible party voters, 3,200 have up-to-date memberships.

Despite this, party officials say they feel good about the level of engagement in the leadership race.

“It seems like, as we are nearing the actual convention date, our momentum is starting to pick up in terms of getting members engaged and people watching and tuning in,” said party president Margaret Anne Walsh.

“It was a challenge of over the summer because there’s so much going on in P.E.I.”

The two candidates – James Aylward and Brad Trivers – are familiar faces as elected members of the PC Opposition.

Walsh says the party was approached by a number of individuals outside the PC caucus who expressed interest in running for leader, including several women.

But the timing of the convention two years away from the next scheduled election played a role in the party’s ability to attract new faces and people outside the rail.

This was particularly true for potential female candidates, she said.

“The fact that the current government has been disregarding the fixed election dates legislation… the uncertainty that’s caused puts all candidates at a disadvantage, but certainly female candidates because they balance a lot.”

For their part, the two leadership contenders say they both feel they are in a solid race that is picking up in momentum as the convention nears.

Brad Trivers at the PC leadership debate earlier this week.

Trivers, who is relatively new to politics having taken office in 2015, has run a campaign aimed at getting “back to basics” while also promoting innovation and a greater embrace of information technology within government.

“I feel the agenda I’m bringing forward, my approach, is one that is resonating with people about reinvigorating the Progressive Conservative brand, getting back to basics and looking at our mission and our values,” Trivers said.

His major campaign promises include boosting support for school food programs, working to establish a universal basic income, bringing back the RCMP traffic services division and more support for the ATV Federation.

James Aylward at the PC leadership debate earlier this week.

Aylward, meanwhile, says he feels his level of support is strong, citing his experience as his biggest asset. He has been an elected MLA for the last six years and ran for party leadership in 2015.

“People know that I’ve got a little bit more experience and people have heard me speaking out on issues that I’m very passionate about,” Aylward said.

“My philosophy has always been – from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed at night just work hard and engage with people and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

His major platform promises include bringing back elected school boards, calling a public inquiry into the e-gaming scandal, establishing a new mental health facility in western P.E.I. and bringing back regional health boards.

UPEI political science professor Don Desserud says while political watchers may wish for a more exciting race, he suspects the PC party isn’t too bothered by it.

“By exciting we usually mean controversial or some new candidate who is different who we haven’t seen before,” he said.

“A low-key affair, a civilized affair with two candidates that seem to generally like each other might be exactly what the party needs.”

Votes from all four voting days, as well as mail-in ballots, will be tallied and the winner announced on Oct. 20.

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