By: Josh Lewis
The crowd erupted first.
Then came the confetti.
Then Dennis King walked down the aisle, thanking his supporters after winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I.
That was the scene Saturday afternoon at the Eastlink Centre in Charlottetown, the culmination of a three-month leadership campaign triggered by the sudden resignation of former leader James Aylward.
King, 47, won on the second ballot, handily defeating fellow candidates Allan Dale, Kevin Arsenault, Sarah Stewart-Clark and Shawn Driscoll.
Driscoll was dropped after the first ballot, with his 307 votes split among the remaining candidates according to the second-place votes on the preferential ballot.
King garnered just two votes more than he needed on the second ballot to bring the waiting to an end.
Covered in confetti, King expressed his gratitude in his victory speech.
“The confidence you have shown me is overwhelming,” he said.
“It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life and I say to all of you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
King stressed it will take more than one person to lead the PCs back to government.
“We’re going to need ideas and energy and determination and money. Our job now is to come together for Islanders to offer a strong, viable, principled party for change in a political climate that is ripe for change.”
He also commended the other four candidates after “a long, arduous and competitive process.”
In taking the reins from Aylward, King said the Stratford MLA would be “a big man” in a PC government.
Aylward was recognized prior to the candidate speeches and it was emotional.
“I know I’m not the only one in this room who’s proud to be a Progressive Conservative.”
Dale, a former naval officer and faculty member at UPEI’s School of Sustainable Design Engineering, finished second with 803 votes.
Optimism and unity are required to help Islanders move forward, Dale said.
“I’m excited to stand on the stage with Wade MacLauchlan and show him what real leadership looks like.”
Arsenault surprised some with his third-place showing. He earned the support of national pro-life organizations and also emphasized fighting corruption.
“It’s possible to get ahead in politics without compromising who you are.”
Stewart-Clark was the only woman in the race and the only candidate to speak French at the convention.
The Dalhousie professor said she would make decisions based on best practises and the best interests of Islanders.
She surprised some people with her campaign, she said.
“They didn’t expect a woman to be able to hold their own and speak their mind. I hear a lot from Islanders about how happy they are to see a competent female in a leadership role.”
She added she’s proud to have discussed issues like climate change, mental illness and sexual violence.
Driscoll, the youngest candidate at 35, stressed the need to be ready for a likely spring election.
He also lauded the other candidates for what they brought to the campaign – integrity (Arsenault), rationality (Stewart-Clark), discipline (Dale) and congeniality (King).
Stewart-Clark is the only candidate who has already been nominated to run for the PCs, in District 9. King said he plans to run in his home riding of District 15. Dale and Driscoll also live in that riding, though Driscoll said he plans to run in neighbouring 14.