WOODSTOCK, P.E.I. - They responded to questions relating to health care and education and then the five candidates vying for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. were asked Tuesday evening what they’d do to grow the West Prince region’s population.
“Certainly from the comments, the questions, the issues that have been brought forward, you see the great concern, the great passion that we have here in West Prince, whether it is with regards to education, whether it is with regard to health care, our primary industries,” said resident Ernie Hudson, addressing the candidates, before suggesting a lot of the issues relate back to the region’s population decline.
Hudson noted the population of West Prince declined from 16,000 in 1901 to just over 13,000 by 2016. Over that same period, he said, Statistics Canada figures show the population of P.E.I. has grown from 103,000 to 150,000. He asked the candidates what they would do to reverse the regional trend.
Candidate Kevin Arsenault suggested a completely revamped small business incentive. He said a low-interest loan program would help businesses get going and stay viable while offering a decent wage.
“The simple answer is jobs,” added Shawn Driscoll.
The second candidate noted that a job shortage had caused him to leave the province, and he has three brothers in Alberta who would love to come back if the jobs were here.
“When these people leave, we lose our community volunteers, our baseball coaches, our firefighters. Children lose their parents, and it’s all because of jobs.”
Driscoll suggested the key to job creation is a competitive marketplace and a tax structure that will allow businesses to thrive and provide meaningful employment.
Allan Dale proposed getting internet services on track in West Prince to enable schools, hospitals and communities to reach their potential and allow businesses to thrive.
Dennis King agreed better internet access is part of the solution.
“If you want people to stay in rural Prince Edward Island and if you want people to move to Prince Edward Island, the government has to provide services so that people can make a choice to stay, live, raise a family and work here,” King said.
Increasing birth rates and immigration were offered as solutions by candidate Sarah Stewart-Clark.
Stewart-Clark said P.E.I. does not have the resources women need to choose to have larger families and said immigration programs need to be tailored to bring workers to the businesses that already exist here.
A nominated candidate for the Island New Democrats, Herb Dickieson, sought out and received assurances from candidates that they would safeguard the Western Hospital’s emergency room.
Candidates also fielded questions on agricultural land, deep water wells and groundwater protection, protection of the wild oyster industry, long-term care and addiction services. In addition, their views were sought on the Island Regulatory Appeals Commission and electrical rates. They provided differing stances on abortion services and the referendum question on mixed member proportional representation.
The Progressive Conservatives associations in West Prince organized the forum as an opportunity for the candidates to respond to West Prince issues.
Close to 150 people were in attendance at the Mill River Resort.