POLITICS

PEI Election 2015: Leaders Focus On Voter Trust In Televised Debate

04/27/2015 04:05 EDT | Updated 06/26/2015 05:59 EDT
SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - Prince Edward Island's political culture was under attack in a televised leaders debate Monday night as the opposition parties attempted to saddle the province's new Liberal leader with past controversies that have embroiled his party.

Two opposition party leaders used their opening statements to promise more accountability, with Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker describing the politically dominant Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties as "toxic organizations."

"Islanders want just a couple of very simple and very reasonable things from their politicians. We want good, honest government from good, honest people," he said.

"But I would suggest to you that that would actually be something quite new and different on Prince Edward Island. And you don't get something new and different by voting for more of the same."

Progressive Conservative Leader Rob Lantz joined the attack on the province's political culture.

"People need to know that their future depends on their hard work and talent. Not who they know," he told the audience watching the debate at an auditorium in Summerside and broadcast live on CBC.

The pointed opening statements left Wade MacLauchlan distancing himself from the recent history of his own party as he promised a different style of leadership if he successfully wins a third straight majority for the Liberals in next Monday's election.

"I am prepared to offer leadership that is different from previous Conservative and Liberal administrations, and to offer leadership and experience that is going to make a difference for this province," he said.

The debate featured four party leaders, all of them trying to get a seat in the legislature for the first time.

MacLauchlan and Lantz became leaders of their parties in February. But while the two main party leaders share inexperience in provincial politics, they come from widely different backgrounds.

MacLauchlan, 60, is a former president of the University of Prince Edward Island and has spent his working life as an academic.

Lantz, 45, served two terms on Charlottetown city council and worked as a programmer and project manager for a software company.

Throughout the campaign, the Tories have focused on government accountability, promising to appoint a royal commission that would look into the administration of an immigration program and an Internet gaming initiative that was abandoned by former premier Robert Ghiz's government more than two years ago.

Since he became premier, MacLauchlan has promised changes intended to bolster trust after questions were raised about the Liberal party's handling of the immigrant investor program, which was the subject of an RCMP investigation, and its failed attempt to make P.E.I. the country's Internet gambling regulator.

A three-year RCMP investigation into allegations of fraud and bribery involving the immigrant investor program was closed in January with no charges laid.

Meanwhile, MacLauchlan has asked the province's auditor general to examine the conduct of current and former elected officials and staff in the gaming plan.

Past Liberal missteps on accountability and a perception that party supporters have gained as a result was a theme echoed by NDP Leader Mike Redmond.

"The stark reality on Prince Edward Island is that we have politics out of fear," said Redmond, whose party last elected a legislature member in 1996.

"We need a government that's going to be focused on people first and pay attention to issues like poverty, social housing. These are critical."

A number of cabinet ministers chose not to seek re-election and MacLauchlan said he is proud of the Liberal campaign.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm and energy and honest democratic support for what we need to do to improve this province," he said.

When the legislature was dissolved, the Liberals held 20 seats in the legislature, the Tories had three seats, there was one Independent and three seats were vacant.

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