CBC's Island Morning brought together three candidates in P.E.I.'s byelection in District 19, Borden-Kinkora for a roundtable Wednesday, and local issues took second place to provincial matters.
In particular, the full room at Lone Oak Brewery in Borden-Carleton heard candidates for the Green and Liberal parties attack the government's record on health care and housing.
With the district bordering on Summerside, home to the Prince County Hospital, the downgrading of services at that hospital was a big part of the health care discussion.
Progressive Conservative candidate Carmen Reeves, representing the governing party, agreed the problems at the hospital have to be fixed.
The room was full at Lone Oak Brewery a roundtable organized by CBC's Island Morning. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)
"We need to get the PCH back to its former levels, full stop. No other solution will be acceptable," said Reeves.
But candidates looking to represent opposition parties accused the government of failing to recruit the doctors and other health care workers the province needs.
"A promise to clear the registry by assigning our waitlists to medical homes does not put doctors in place. It's a smokescreen," said Liberal candidate Gordon Sobey.
The government's approach to the housing problem is not working for Borden-Kinkora, says Gordon Sobey. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)
"Voting Conservative in this election and further supporting the mismanagement of our health care system and leaving the PCH understaffed is to ensure this trend continues."
Reeves touted UPEI's medical school, currently scheduled to open in 2025, as a made-in-P.E.I. solution to the problem.
"One in 11 folks on P.E.I. who try to apply to medical school on P.E.I. get accepted. One in 11. I think it's time that we started fixing the problem from within," he said.
"Islanders have always fixed their own problems, so that's what we're trying to do."
Green candidate Matt McFarlane said as a solution the medical school will take too long.
"There is zero plan in this government's mind to fix health care promptly," said MacFarlane.
"The medical school is a great announcement, to build a bricks and mortar building, so the premier can have something to point at, that he's done something as a government to try and fix the problem. That's not going to fix the problem now."
'Victim of our success'
When the candidates were asked how to entice people to move into the Borden-Kinkora area, the conversation immediately turned to housing.
"There needs to be houses," said MacFarlane.
The government has talking points but is not making progress, says Matt MacFarlane. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)
"Without access to affordable and accessible housing we're not going to be able to keep and attract the people we need."
He said he is surprised at the number of people who are building apartments in their homes not to hold older relatives, but to provide their grown children with a place to live.
Reeves said the government has invested a lot in new housing, including interest rate support for new builds, HST rebates, and supporting development of trades workers.
The province has been struggling to keep up with population growth, he said. Since 2019 has added 18,000 people, but that's not necessarily a bad problem to have.
"We're a victim of our success. We're doing well just to keep up," said Reeves.
The government is doing a good job just keeping up with massive growth, says Carmen Reeves. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)
"Our secret is out, Pandora's Box is open, that we have the greatest place to live in Canada, so we have had the growth."
Sobey took issue with the kind of housing the government is supporting.
"This government has not provided any supports for single family dwellings. It's all apartments," he said.
"But those rents are going to be $1,400 to $2,000 a month and we can't afford them. Wages have not caught up to inflation to afford those kinds of rent. So that's why people are living with mom and dad."
'Crisis is just as real'
MacFarlane said for all the programs Reeves can list, things are not getting better.
"We're going into year six of this government's mandate and the housing crisis is just as real," he said.
"I'm just not seeing a whole lot of progress on that, notwithstanding all the talking points."
The byelection became necessary when former Progressive Conservative MLA Jamie Fox resigned to run federally.
Election day is Feb. 5, with one more advance poll on Friday.
NDP candidate Karen Morton was invited to the candidate forum, but was unable to attend due to illness.