Candidates do not know questions in advance
The Chamber of Commerce Candidates Forum started in East End on Monday night, with challenger John McLean Jr. and incumbent district representative Arden McLean answering 33 questions without knowing in advance what those questions would be. They also took turns answering first.
Johnnie and Arden agreed about gambling, disagreed on “one man, one vote” and, where they shared a position in principle they brought different perspectives.
Chamber President Chris Duggan told the crowd in the William Allen McLaughlin Civic Centre and listeners over Radio Cayman that in the first round, questions were selected randomly from more than 100 submitted by Chamber members. In the second round, queries came from people present in the audience.
The candidates were first asked their strategy for dealing with the George Town landfill. Johnnie said if there is a proper recycling programme, it would be better to have it at the present site. Arden said he did not support moving the dump, noting that as a former Cabinet minister he had worked for a “waste to energy” programme.
Asked about West Bay Road and the ForCayman Investment Alliance, Arden pointed out that he had yet to see the KPMG report and whether the project was value for money. He supported re-opening the road. If Dart wanted to build another road to West Bay that was fine, but the first road should not be closed. He could not say whether the alliance should cease because there are contracts in place. As more information became available the matter could be revisited.
Johnnie said the question of reopening the West Bay Road was one the constituents of West Bay had a right to decide, just as East Enders had decided when a dock was proposed for their district. As to continuing the alliance, his would be a common sense approach – not because you disagree with government do you slice down a project, he said. “I would like to see the cards on the table as to what else they are offering. If value for money is not there, I would oppose,” he said.
Asked about the impact of “Health City” in East End with the number of people likely to move into the district because of jobs with the new hospital, Johnnie said he had already spoken to project director Gene Thompson about training programmes so that East Enders could have employment in such fields as nursing, maintenance and security after the construction jobs are finished.
Arden said Health City was an opportunity for East Enders to build apartments for renting to workers and he had spoken to Mr. Thompson about getting letters of commitment that people could take to the bank when negotiating a building loan.
Responding to related questions, Arden said he would work to increase commercial zoning so that people could open small businesses. Infrastructure could be improved by building more interior roads to access farming and expand housing sites. Cultural impact was a possibility, but East Enders have always been resilient about their culture, Arden said.
Johnnie proposed a new and larger primary school, possibly on the site of the civic centre, that would benefit local children as much as youngsters moving to the district. Infrastructure also included things like restrooms at the playfield, he pointed out. As for cultural impact, he said it was good to put things together for newcomers, but “they need to respect us first and foremost.” On a strategy for jobs, Johnnie proposed that before any work permit could be issued, the immigration boards would have to liaise with a national employment agency and not let companies use loop holes.
Arden drew the first applause of the evening when he declared, “My first move is to disband the immigration boards.” He said immigration is for border control; what was needed was an employment department where Caymanians go and get registered; if no Caymanian is available, then an employer wold be given permission to go to immigration.
Asked about making gambling legal, Arden said if the people wanted it he would support it; he believed there should be a referendum so the debate on it could be concluded. Johnnie said if there was one issue he and Arden agreed on, this was it. However, he added, it should be a people’s referendum, not one that is government initiated.
The issue of referendum came up again when someone in East End asked the men how they had voted on the “one man, one vote” issue last year. Johnnie said he voted no because he did not think it was initiated from the right circumstances, referring again to the distinction between a government referendum and people-initiated referendum. He also raised the possibility of different nationalities segregated within communities and then ruling in those areas, like Little Havana or Little Haiti in Miami.
Arden pointed out that he had campaigned for “one man, one vote”. If East Enders have to pay the same taxes as George Towners, they should have the same number of votes, he said – six instead of one. He suggested that political equality might be a human rights issue for East Enders to pursue once the elections are over.
Johnnie thought the country has bigger issues right now than the political system. One thing had already changed – the introduction of political parties, which was the most destructive thing in these islands. Changing the voting system now would just take the mess further, he said.
One of the last questions from the audience was whether a person on bail or under charges should stand for election. Arden said he clearly understood the concept of innocent until proven guilty, but people with no moral uprightness need to stop running for politics. Johnnie said if a person knows he is guilty, he should save the taxpayers money.