The assembly looked and sounded more like a class reunion than a political open house.
Smiles and laughter. Handshakes and hugs. Memories and stories being shared.
Inside the building where he started his career as a young reporter, Dennis King began the evening with words one might share with only familiar faces.
“I never thought I’d be nervous to be in the old Eastern Graphic office, amongst friends,” he says to the crowd gathered at what is now the Copper Bottom Brewery in Montague.
“But thankfully, to relieve the tension and pressure, I had a piss on Paul MacNeill’s desk in there,” referring to the location of the brewery’s restrooms where MacNeill’s office once sat.
“It gave me a little satisfaction,” he adds as the group shares a collective chuckle.
In the audience, alongside staff from the Graphic, past and present, are a few others Dennis called colleagues at one time or another.
Pat Binns, one of P.E.I.’s longest-standing premiers – from 1996 to 2007 – is in the crowd, decked in a seasonal sweater.
Jim Bagnall, a former PC MLA for 15 years – beginning with the Binns government – is here as well.
And Steven Myers, once interim leader of the PC party and current MLA for Georgetown-St. Peters, is amid the group too.
All have come to hear what ‘Denny’ has to say about his vision for the future of the party and for Prince Edward Island.
“People want to feel their government is not just working for them,” Dennis says. “They want politics to reflect what they see within themselves, and what we see within ourselves.”
Politics today has gotten too mean-spirited, too personal, too divisive, he says.
“And I don’t think that’s who we see, as Islanders, when we look within ourselves.”
He’s been delivering the same message in his talks across the Island. He wants to change the tone of how government – and the legislature – operates.
“So we can look at the issues as Islanders, not as partisan Islanders.”
All of the parties, when you take away the colours, stand for something, he says.
“Principles and values. That’s what I want to focus on.”
People. Communities. Working together. Conversations between everyone.
“Party politics is not the job of one person. It’s the job of a team.”
This is about people, he says, relaying the theme of his campaign.
“This isn’t about me,” he says, pointing to the placard standing behind him emblazoned with his portrait. “I hate that my picture is up here in front of everybody.”
I know you’re here to learn what my vision is, what I am going to do, he says.
“But my vision includes your ideas.”
We don’t have to play one side against the other. We have to work together, he says.
“I believe we can do it. I think it’s going to cause some issues. I think it’s going to make us think. I think it’s going to cause us to do things a lot differently than we’ve done them before. But I think we can do that.”
I want to lead that charge, he says.
“It’s the perfect time for somebody like me. Somebody who understands communities, big and small. Someone who understands the challenges of the people who make those communities home.”
I’m rural to the bone, he says.
“And I’m proud of that.”
Telling the audience he wants to hear from them, he opens the floor to questions from the crowd.
A comment from one woman about the need for oncologists inevitably leads to a discussion about rural hospitals, rural services and schools in rural areas.
“If you take the children out of the community, it dies,” an older lady says.
“Without jobs and without kids, there’s no need for services,” a gentleman adds.
Dennis tells the audience he’s been hearing the same thing all across the province: Islanders want jobs, services and incentives – to help keep not only their rural communities alive, but their way of life too.
Fishing and busy wharfs. Farming and the preservation of resources. Skilled trade workers and new ventures.
“We have to look back to our past to find out how we can chart a way forward to the future,” he says.
Discussion about land protection, deep water wells and the impact of a proposed pipeline in the Northumberland Strait round out the question and answer session.
Denny’s stance on the pipeline is pretty clear.
I can’t even rationalize that in my mind, dumping “shit” into any body of water that means hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, he says.
“Pardon my language,” he adds.
“That’s alright,” an older lady, seated close by, assures him with a smile.
So, the evening ends much the same way it began – reminiscing about the past, with just a pinch of profanity.
That’s Denny: an unapologetically proud Islander. Who may or may not have picked up some of his vocabulary hanging around the Georgetown wharf.
Many Islanders might say, though: they would rather their politicians say ‘shit’ than be full of it.