The door to the Harmony House Theatre is heavy, windowless and shut tightly on this rainy November evening in Hunter River.
Open it a crack, though, and a distinct voice booms from just inside the entryway.
It’s Dennis. ‘Denny’ to many.
He’s talking hockey with two fellas and leaning on the counter of the admission booth at the small performance hall.
“They’re their best players,” he announces as the two nod in agreement.
There’s a reason he’s a broadcaster for the UPEI Panthers men’s hockey team. He’s got the pipes for it.
“Can you hear me OK?” he says now to the audience that’s gathered, after a microphone malfunction. The crowd offers a collective, “Yep,” while others continue to trickle in and get seated.
Despite a forecasted storm that night, they’ve come to hear what the writer, storyteller and PC party leader hopeful has to say.
“I think politics, at its very root, is the business of the people. And the further we remove people from that business, the worse it is for all of us.”
Island politics is a business Denny has followed his whole life. And it’s a business he wants to change.
He knows it’ll be a challenge.
“I’m not an expert in anything. I don’t have every answer. I’m not perfect,” he says. “But I got lots of good ideas, I think, and I want to discuss them with you.”
Crediting himself as a great listener and communicator, he drops a reference that draws laughter from the crowd.
“I think we can debate ideas without criticizing each other personally. I did it on the radio with Paul MacNeill for five years, for the love of God. …that’s tough!”
Debating ideas and discussing solutions – with everyone, and with every party playing a role – is the message he’s delivering tonight and it’s the message of his campaign.
“We’re all Islanders. We all have values. We all have beliefs. We all have a vision. Let’s talk about it in a way that we can find the compromises to match all of those things and make a better Prince Edward Island.”
It’s about people, he says. Not polls. Not parties.
Still, he’s a proud Progressive Conservative, though.
“I’ve worked for every candidate that’s asked me to work for them over the last 22 years. I put my heart and soul into their campaigns. And I’m awfully glad that a lot of them are back here, doing the same for me,” he says.
“Because that’s what friends do.”
Opening up the floor to questions, he encourages people not to be shy.
One lady asks about deep-water wells. Dennis says it’s a concern he’s been hearing a lot.
“They wouldn’t need irrigation if they would farm right,” an older gentleman calls out from his seat near the back as Dennis squints to bring him into focus.
“They don’t farm like we did 50 years ago,” the gentleman adds.
Dennis acknowledges change isn’t always good or easy, but it’s constant.
And sometimes, it’s necessary.
He also knows wisdom and experience are just as valuable as new people and new ideas when it comes to effecting that change.
He takes a moment near the end of the evening to address the history of the party and some “flak” he’s been hearing on the campaign trail.
“I’ve been looking around for 20 years in this party to find out where ‘the backroom’ is or who these people are,” he says, addressing a tweet from Paul MacNeill that stated King’s campaign has undergone a “Tory backroom takeover.”
“There’s no pay in this,” Dennis says, referring not only to his team but anyone who’s worked on a political campaign.
“The Timbits are stale, the coffee is cold. It’s the crappiest, most miserable job ever.”
Only political junkies or people dedicated to the candidate would accept the task, he says.
“I’ve told Paul MacNeill this, and I’ll tell everyone…if someone wants me to stand on this stage and apologize for working for the candidates of this party over the last 20 years, you got the wrong guy.”
He’s proud of the work he’s done, excited about the work ahead and he’s protective of the people involved in that work.
“If you got a bone to pick with one of the people on my campaign, pick it with me,” he says. “Not with them.”
The small community hall erupts with applause.
“I had to get that off my chest,” he adds, the audience chuckling.
At the end of the Q&A session – that’s touched on everything from childcare to school and hospital closures to the way the legislature operates – Dennis pulls aside the older farmer from earlier in the evening.
“I’ll give you a call next week and we’ll have a cup of tea,” Dennis says.
“OK, sounds good,” says the gentleman.
Tea next week perhaps, but to cap off this evening, it’s a frothy glass of beer served in the cozy bar beneath the theatre’s main floor where some of the crowd has gathered to talk about politics and, of course, the weather.
Outside there might be a storm brewing, but on P.E.I. that’s the perfect reason to share a drink – and a chat.
Because that’s what friends do.