At her official launch for the leadership of the P.E.I. Progressive Conservative party, Sarah Stewart-Clark said the key to reversing the party’s fortunes is to become more inclusive.
Stewart-Clark officially became the fourth candidate to enter the leadership race on Monday after holding an event at UPEI’s Andrew Hall. In a speech, Stewart-Clark, an associate professor in Dalhousie’s department of animal science and aquaculture, emphasized her past advocacy for women, and for marginalized people.
"I have spent the last six years speaking to, listening to, and learning from thousands of real Island families. In actively listening, it has become clear to me that the success of our province lies not in the success of our one per cent,” Stewart-Clark said.
"I also learned that women and minority populations on P.E.I. need to not only have their voices heard but understood."
Stewart-Clark did not outline the specific policies she would pursue as premier of the province.
But in an interview with The Guardian, Stewart-Clark suggested that the PC party needs to become more inclusive.
"The party in the past has not done a great job about being a welcoming and open party,” Stewart-Clark said.
“Under my leadership we would remove any barrier that would keep anyone from feeling that they would be welcome in our party."
Stewart-Clark said offering child care at party meetings and reaching out to members from all regions in the province could help the party attract more support.
The PC leadership contest comes in the midst of low polling numbers for the party. According to opinion polls conducted by Corporate Research Associates, the party has seen its public support drop from 24 per cent in August 2017 to 20 per cent in August 2018. The party is currently trailing both the Liberal and Green parties in opinion polls.
The leadership race has not been without controversy.
In a letter sent to party president Charles Blue last week, leadership candidate Shawn Driscoll accused party leaders of favouring Dennis King. He claimed PC caucus chief of staff Adam Ross had resigned his position to work full-time on King’s leadership campaign, and that Ross had given King’s campaign privileged access to membership lists.
Ross was observed at the King launch event but has not commented publicly to The Guardian on the matter.
When asked about her thoughts on the accusations from Driscoll, Stewart-Clark declined to comment directly. She said she had received a full membership list from the party.
“What I will say is that all members and all Islanders expect there to be a fair and transparent process. So, I hope that the party will ensure that Islanders' trust in that process remains strong and remains what it was before this allegation has been made," she said.
A PC leadership convention will be held Feb. 9, 2019 at the Eastlink Centre.