04/07/2015 10:16 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT

PEI Election 2015: Accountability, Health Care In Focus As Parties Launch Campaigns

CORNWALL, P.E.I. - Prince Edward Island's Progressive Conservatives launched their election campaign Tuesday with promises to make government more accountable and open.

Tory Leader Rob Lantz repeated his pledge to appoint a royal commission that would look into the administration of a provincial immigrant program and an Internet gaming initiative that was abandoned more than two years ago.

"When faced with a choice, this government chose secrecy over openness time and again," Lantz told about 50 supporters and candidates at the town hall in Cornwall.

"That's not change. That's the same old, same old. A government mired in debt, veiled in secrecy ... under an ethical cloud."

He said accountability is the biggest issue in the May 4 election campaign and he promised to have all Tory candidates sign an accountability pledge that calls on them to uphold "honest and open government dedicated to the common good."

The Liberals have been in power since 2007 and could have waited until next April to call an election. But Wade MacLauchlan called the election on Monday, six weeks after becoming premier.

Lantz, who has served as a Charlottetown city councillor since 2006, accused MacLauchlan of deciding to go to the polls before tabling a budget in an effort to avoid public scrutiny.

"I think it's been deliberately done by this government to try to stay ahead of the scandals that are unfolding and to try to catch us flat-footed," said Lantz, 45. "They're making a grab to try to take another four years of power."

Since taking office, MacLauchlan has promised a number of changes intended to bolster voter confidence after questions were raised about the Liberal party's handling of an immigrant investor program that was the subject of an RCMP investigation and a 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.

MacLauchlan, 60, has also asked the province's auditor general to examine the conduct of current and former elected officials and staff in the gaming plan, which was scrapped in February 2012.

Like the premier, Lantz has led his party only since February.

"It is a challenge," said Lantz, who describes himself as an entrepreneur who started his own tree-planting company and later worked for 16 years at a P.E.I. technology firm.

Elsewhere on the hustings Tuesday, the Liberals promised to improve wait times for health-care services.

MacLauchlan said the party would focus on decreasing wait times for cataract, hip and knee surgeries as well as for MRI testing. The Liberal plan would also reduce wait times by expanding the role played by nurse practitioners, pharmacists and paramedics, he said.

Follow @NovaMac on Twitter.

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