Dennis King will lead the PC Party into the next election.
The former PC strategist won the leadership race late Saturday afternoon on the second ballot, after earning 2,071 votes. King bested leadership contenders Allan Dale, who drew 803 votes, Kevin Arsenault, who drew 661 votes and Sarah Stewart-Clark, who drew 601 votes.
On the first ballot, King was just shy of majority, earning 2,044 votes. Dale earned 746 while Arsenault drew 590 votes and Stewart-Clark drew 527. Shawn Driscoll was eliminated in the first round after earning 307 votes. There were 8 spoilt ballots.
The leadership contest, which saw the party adopting online voting for the first time, saw the highest voter turnout of any past PC leadership contest. In all, 4,222 PC members voted, far surpassing the party’s previous record of 2954 during the 2015 PC leadership contest.
Party leaders said 5,837 members were eligible to vote.
King said the voter turnout demonstrated renewal in a party that many consigned to the political wilderness.
“We’re alive, baby! And we’re coming to get ya!” King said in his victory speech.
Over the course of his campaign for leader, King had focused on the theme of reducing the grip of partisanship on Island politics. Repeatedly, he stressed the need for the party to focus its messaging more on solutions rather than criticism.
King also said he favored proportional representation and described himself as pro-choice.
The leadership contest was prompted by the surprise resignation of PC Leader James Aylward last September. After less than a year as leader, Aylward said he had failed to connect with Islanders.
The PC Party has been trailing the Liberal and Green Parties in opinion polls for over a year.
In a victory speech, King thanked the other four leadership candidates, as well as Aylward, who he deemed a “pillar of strength.”
King said he planned to embark upon what he called an “ambitious schedule of nominations” of party candidates and pledged to meet with riding association presidents across the Island in the coming weeks.
King often found himself in the crosshairs of other candidates during the leadership contest. A letter sent to party leaders, signed by the campaign managers of the four other candidates, criticized a member of the party’s leadership convention committee for renting office space to King’s campaign.
The letter described this as “a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest.’”
But Dale, who garnered the second-highest vote total, painted a different picture of the relationship between the leadership candidates. Speaking to The Guardian after King’s win, Dale said the five candidates were in regular contact behind the scenes.
"In the background, the five candidates probably leaned on each other more than anybody knew. We would be constantly in communication with one another, we started the process going to breakfast with one another,” Dale said.
Dale said the leadership race, his first foray into party politics, had been rewarding. But the former naval officer said the experience had been surprisingly challenging for him.
“I’ve never been a part of something that is such an emotional rollercoaster,” Dale said.
Dale did not rule out the possibility of running as a candidate. However, he and King share the home riding of Brackley-Hunter River.
“Mine is a little bit complicated. Dennis and I will have a conversation in the coming days,” Dale said.
Arsenault, who ran a campaign focused on the theme of ending corruption and nepotism in P.E.I. politics drew a surprisingly strong showing, finishing third. The organic gardener, who advocated for reduced funding for abortion services on P.E.I., drew the support of the Toronto-based, socially conservative Campaign Life Coalition and the pro-life RightNow campaign.