New Liberal leader says she's 'laser-focused' on rebuilding the party in P.E.I.

Sharon Cameron says her focus is on rebuilding the Liberal Party of Prince Edward Island. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Sharon Cameron says her focus is on rebuilding the Liberal Party of Prince Edward Island. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Sharon Cameron says her focus is on rebuilding the Liberal Party of Prince Edward Island.

Cameron was officially crowned as leader on Saturday at the party's annual meeting and leadership convention at East Wiltshire School in Cornwall. She was the only candidate to come forward for the job.

"My focus right now, …is to focus on the districts, on our districts, on our party, I have to be laser-focused on that," Cameron told reporters following the convention.

"I think our party is going to offer a clearly articulated vision."

About 150 people attended the uncontested convention.

"I think 150 is 150 more than I would have had five months ago," she said.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Cameron is a former provincial deputy minister and a past CEO of the Workers Compensation Board.

Cameron said she realizes she has a lot of work to do.

The Liberals are currently the third party in the P.E.I. Legislature, with four MLAs. The Liberals were without a leader since Wade MacLauchlan stepped down in 2019. Sonny Gallant had been heading the party in the interim.

Officials also confirmed during the annual meeting the party is still more than $100,000 in debt from the last election.

"There is a plan in place to pay that off," she said.

'To write them off now would be very naive'

The party has a difficult road ahead, but has a solid base and history on its side, according to UPEI Political Science Professor Don Desserud.

"To write them off now would be very naïve," said Desserud.

"The Liberals have a new leader who does not have a seat in the house. That's a disadvantage but it's also an advantage. The advantage is she can spend her time on building the party, finding candidates, and trying to raise some of that money back."

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Cameron still hasn't decided where she'll run in the next election.

She currently lives in Cornwall-Meadowbank, the district now held by Finance Minister Mark McLane.

During her remarks Saturday, Cameron wasted no time targeting Premier Dennis King and his PC party.

'Health care is floundering'

"We're in the midst of rapid change, difficult change, as a party we have an obligation to think deeply and effectively because there's a lot at stake," she said.

"Health care is floundering, there is no plan. No vision. No discussion. Our population is growing rapidly, what is being done to keep up? Again, no plan, no vision. We can all feel the cold winds of recession, high interest rates, labour shortages, shuttered businesses. Will people have to choose between food and heat? Medication and rent? What is the plan? What is the vision?"

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Cameron said the province is facing real life threats, "that cannot be solved by gift cards, gimmicks, and messy, undignifying handouts at the Confederation Court Mall."

Ron MacKinley, who spent nearly 30 years as a Liberal MLA, said the party can win the next election if "everybody pulls together."

He also had some advice for the new leader.

"The main thing is to get out around and meet the people, that's what they've got to do," said MacKinley, who retired from politics in 2015.

'Viable, strong party'

During the annual meeting, Katie Morello, a partner at Cox and Palmer, was elected as the party's new president. Morello said it's a great time to be part of the party, as it starts the rebuilding process district by district.

"So, getting Sharon [Cameron] out to each one, ensuring that they have candidates in place, money in the bank and they're ready to go."

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Cameron said she plans to meet her caucus and team on Monday, and will be in the P.E.I. legislature on Tuesday.

But she said she plans to leave the work of the legislature, which is now sitting, to the party's four elected MLAs.

"My job right now is to work with the association and the districts and to build the conditions for a viable, strong party so that's what I am going to focus on right now."