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A look at the five P.E.I. Progressive Conservative party leadership candidates

Michael Drake, spokesman for the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative leadership convention committee, poses with the ranked ballot system that has been used over the past week to determine the PC party’s new leader to be declared today
Michael Drake, spokesman for the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative leadership convention committee, poses with the ranked ballot system that has been used over the past week to determine the PC party’s new leader to be declared today - Jim Day

The new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. will be declared today.

For weeks, Kevin Arsenault, Sarah Stewart-Clark, Allan Dale, Shawn Driscoll and Dennis King have tried to convince the party faithful that they are the right person for the job – the type of leader that best reflects the values and policies of the party, and the best bet at returning the PCs to power in the yet-to-be announced provincial election that will likely take place this spring.

The five candidates leaned on debates, advertising and plenty of social media to get their message out, to share their vision and to make their positions on key issues known.

Michael Drake, spokesman for the leadership convention committee, says the Liberals, Green party and PCs appear to be in for a tight, three-way race in the next provincial election.

An opinion poll released two weeks ago by MQO Research shows P.E.I.’s governing Liberal party holding the support of 33 per cent of decided voters, trailing the Green party, standing at 34 per cent. The PC party is holding onto third place with 28 per cent of decided voters, while a whopping 39 per cent of voters are either undecided or do not plan to vote.

Drake says the new leader, if he or she is to be successful, needs to “set out an understandable, coherent and hopeful vision for the province and one that makes sense to Islanders.’’

Members of the PC party have been offered plenty of diversity to consider in choosing their next leader.

The candidates range in age from 34 to 60 and differ in current occupation from university researcher to organic gardener.

Here is a snapshot of the five candidates, appearing in alphabetical order in an attempt to best thwart any concerns of playing favourites.


Kevin Arsenault grew up on a grain and potato farm in Maple Plains, P.E.I., the son of Lorne and Mary Arsenault, who are both deceased.

One of eight children, Arsenault worked every day on the farm for a couple of hours after school.

He said growing up in rural P.E.I. gave him a great “appreciation for how beautiful the Island is…the forests, the brooks and the ponds.’’

He would hunt rabbits and fish for food, adhering to his Acadian culture.

Kevin J. Arsenault
Kevin J. Arsenault

Arsenault got his BA at UPEI but gravitated to religious studies and philosophies. He earned his master’s degree in political and liberation theology in 1985 and later attained his PhD in ethics in 1996.

He would go on to have a diverse career, which included freelance reporting for the Eastern Graphic where he wrote numerous articles challenging the merits of building a fixed link between P.E.I. and New Brunswick. He also did a fair bit of agricultural reporting.

Arsenault served as executive director for the National Farmers Union in the 1990s and served in the same capacity for the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers from 2000 to 2010.

Today, the 60-year-old Fort Augustus resident, who is single and has four adult children, grows and sells organic produce.

Arsenault believes his strong management skills and pursuit of ethical government would serve him well as party leader.

He notes he has never shied away from saying there has been a lot of corruption in both the Liberal and PC parties on P.E.I.

“That system has to come to an end in reality,’’ he said.

“I want to put an end to that completely.’’

Adding that he tends to win support for what he believes are good ideas, Arsenault would consider it a “massive failure’’ if the new PC leader could not lead the party to power in the next election.

  • Favourite book: “At the Back of the North Wind” by George MacDonald
  • Favourite movie: “Apollo 13”
  • Favourite Food: Organic salads from his own garden
  • Favourite band: Pink Floyd
  • Favourite activity: Playing piano and singing


Sarah Stewart-Clark says she gained a strong sense of community growing up in Sherwood with her two brothers.

Her mother, Eileen, was an elementary school teacher, and her father, Kaye, was chief estimator for a contracting company.

“We weren’t wealthy, but we never wanted for anything,’’ she said.

Stewart-Clark says her work as a scientist over the past 20 years has been laden with experience working in leadership positions.

Sarah Stewart-Clark
Sarah Stewart-Clark

She is currently doing research in P.E.I. with shellfish, aquaculture and wild fishery.

An associate professor in Dalhousie University’s department of animal, science and aquaculture, Stewart-Clark’s main focus is her research conducted in Prince Edward Island, but she does travel to Nova Scotia 12 days a year to teach at the university.

The 40-year-old Stewart-Clark lives in Charlottetown with her husband, Fraser, and the couple’s seven-year-old son, Rory. The couple also lost a child in a miscarriage.

She cofounded Island Mothers Helping Mothers with the goal of supporting any mother, father, foster parent, grandparent, or anyone who has a child in their custody in P.E.I.

She has spent the past six years listening to vulnerable Islanders and taking on a strong advocacy role pushing for an improved mental health-care system in the province.

After meeting with all four provincial political parties in P.E.I., she determined the PCs were best aligned with her values and vision.

“I’m very collaborative and I’m very interested in hearing from a wide variety of perspectives,’’ she said.

“There is a value in every person’s experience around the table.’’

  • Favourite book: “Dare to Lead” by Brenee Brown
  • Favourite movie: “Salam Neighbor”
  • Favourite food: Smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese and red onions
  • Favourite band: Kinley Dowling
  • Favourite activity: Being in nature with her son, Rory


Allan Dale grew up in a middle-class family in St. John’s, N.L., with four older sisters.

His father, Al, worked for Canadian National as a telegraph operator. His mother, Betty, worked at Zellers.

The navy consumed Dale, who joined the Navy League Cadet Corps at age 12 and joined the naval reserve at 17.

Allan Dale
Allan Dale

He went on to serve in the Royal Canadian Navy with success and distinction for 33 years, including two stints as commanding officer of HMCS Queen Charlotte.

He did tours in Haiti and the Persian Gulf and put soldiers through boot camp in preparation for deployment to Afghanistan.

“As soon as I got involved, I had a natural appeal to that kind of life,’’ he said of his naval service.

“It was the appeal of something bigger than me. It was the appeal of being a part of something that was bigger than my own ambition.’’

After retiring from the navy, Dale spent two years working for a defence contractor.

The past three years, he has been director of industry partnerships in the School of Sustainable Design Engineering at UPEI.

He is a graduate of Holland College’s Culinary Institute and a graduate of Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., with a degree in professional communications.

Dale, who is 52 and lives in Harrington with his wife, Janet, and their children, Olivia and Tom, bills himself as a tested and proven leader.

“I’m a collaborative team builder,’’ he said.

“I spend more time listening than I do talking as a leader…I’ve had to make very hard decisions in my life with asking men and women in service to do things.’’

  • Favourite book: “Sun Tzu: The Art of War”
  • Favourite movie: “The Cruel Sea”
  • Favourite food: Indian cuisine
  • Favourite band: Rush (Dale is a drummer in a rock band called Mid-Life Crisis)
  • Favourite activity: Biking


Shawn Driscoll grew up in Charlottetown with his brothers, Scott and Chris.

His father, Boyd, is an electrician with Hansen Electric, and his mother, Nancy, is a resident care worker.

Driscoll went to Birchwood Intermediate and Colonel Gray before earning a BA at Dalhousie University.

The 34-year-old Charlottetown resident is single, never married and has no children.

Shawn Driscoll
Shawn Driscoll

In other words, he is not tied down, and that left him with plenty of time to commit to the leadership race, but also to being leader if he gets the nod.

Driscoll, like his four competitors, has never held public office. However, he has spent much of his career heavily involved in politics.

Early on, he was drawn to the political arena, taking part in youth parliament in Ottawa and later working at polling stations as a scrutineer in a couple of provincial elections.

He also worked on provincial and federal campaigns in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario.

He worked for former Egmont MP Gail Shea from 2010 to 2015 mostly in Ottawa but out of P.E.I. his final year.

“It was very rewarding work,’’ he said.

“You can make real change if you are motivated to do so.’’

Driscoll worked for an insurance company in Halifax as an agent for two years, splitting time between Charlottetown and Halifax — a job he believes allowed him to hone the skills for developing good rapport with people.

The past year, Driscoll spent as a policy adviser and research with the Nova Scotia PC caucus. He would feed the Opposition with questions to grill the government on health, fishery and natural resources issues.

“I have the experience working in government, knowing the different levels of government,’’ he said.

“I don’t give lip service. If I say I’m going to call you, I am going to call you. If I say I am going to do something, I am going to do something.’’

  • Favourite book: “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Favourite movie: “Rocky”
  • Favourite food: Lobster
  • Favourite band: Interpol
  • Favourite activity: Going to concerts and sporting events


Dennis King said he had a typical, small-town upbringing growing up in Georgetown with his three brothers and four sisters.

“We didn’t have a lot of prosperity. We had a lot of love,’’ he said.

“Daily conversation around the supper table was our form of entertainment.’’

Dennis King
Dennis King

King, 47, who lives in Brookfield with his wife, Jana Hemphill, and the couple’s three children, worked as a reporter for the Eastern Graphic from 1990 to 1996. He then put in one year as a news reporter with radio station CFCY before enjoying working in numerous capacities with the Progressive Conservative government from late 1997 to early 2007, including serving as director of communication for former premier Pat Binns.

King worked in communications and business development for five years with the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of P.E.I. before moving on to the P.E.I. Seafood Processors Association, where he has been on leave as the executive director since December, working to win the leadership of the PC party.

“I think a lot of people have said I have a lot of the characteristics that you need to be in politics,’’ he said.

“I have an outgoing personality. I like talking to people. I’m comfortable with people from all walks of life.’’

King, who is also an author and one-quarter of The Four Tellers, said judging success of how the eventual leader goes on to perform is subjective.

“I have said all along we are not just electing a leader, but we are electing a direction,’’ he said.

“I am trying to take it back to the Progressive Conservative roots.’’

  • Favourite book: “The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood” by Jane Leavy
  • Favourite movie: “Braveheart”
  • Favourite food: Lobster
  • Favourite band: Eagles
  • Favourite activity: Hockey (once playing, now solely watching)

Choosing a leader

The P.E.I. Progressive Conservative Party’s new leader is to be selected today through electronic voting – a first for an Island political party.

The voting started Friday, Feb. 1, and closes today at 3:15 p.m. — less than one hour before the new leader is expected to be declared, says Michael Drake, spokesman for the P.E.I. PC leadership convention committee.

There are roughly 8,300 eligible voters.

A ranked-choice voting electoral system is being used with each voter ranking the five candidates in order of preference from one to five. A voter may rank as few as one candidate or as many as five.

If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated.

First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.

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