Although Cayman political insiders said they were little surprised by government members skipping out on a meeting of their own parliament this week, it’s possible the “no show” for Wednesday’s meeting may be a first for the Cayman Islands.
“It’s never happened in Cayman before,” said East End MLA Arden McLean, adding that he had not researched the matter thoroughly but that typically Westminster-style governments don’t miss their own meetings as a matter of practice.
“You don’t boycott parliament because you have the majority,” he said.
Local attorney Steve McField said Wednesday that he has looked into the matter since the government’s plan not to attend the meeting was made public last week. Mr. McField said he looked at available records since Cayman formed its first assembly of justices of the peace and vestrymen in December 1831.
“My research has shown me this is the first time since [Cayman’s] parliament was created that a government has failed to attend after being summoned,” Mr. McField, a member of the 2015 Electoral Boundary Commission, said.
Two attempts to hold a special emergency meeting of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly failed Wednesday after lawmakers were unable to obtain the requisite number of attendees either in the morning or the afternoon.
On Wednesday morning, all eight elected members of the Progressives political party did not attend the emergency meeting and did not send messages as to their whereabouts, leading House Speaker Juliana O’Connor-Connolly to adjourn the meeting and summons the missing members to appear later in the day.
About four hours later, she attempted to reconvene the meeting.
In that instance, Premier Alden McLaughlin attended to object to the lack of a quorum. Education Minister Tara Rivers had objected to the same issue during the morning meeting.
In both instances, Ms. O’Connor-Connolly called a five-minute recess to seek to summons absent lawmakers to the chamber. Both times, no members of the government bench agreed to attend.
The initial failure to give notice to the Speaker raised the specter of absent members facing parliamentary sanction for doing so, but later in the day, eight members from the government bench – including Minister Rivers who had attended that morning – gave apologies for their non-appearance.
The two motions set to be considered in the special meeting are due to be heard when the House resumes meeting on April 25.
Premier McLaughlin said he could not confirm the historical nature of Mr. McField’s and Mr. McLean’s claims about this being the first time a government had not attended a Legislative Assembly meeting. However, Mr. McLaughlin noted the two specially called meetings in his own political experience, one in November 2001 and one in December 2012, had the support of a majority of elected members. He said the meeting called Wednesday clearly did not.
“In both instances, the meetings were used to change the government,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Both requests for the meetings were supported by a majority of the House.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the legal provision that allows only seven members of the House – a minority – to request a special or emergency meeting is a “hangover” from the days when the Legislative Assembly consisted of only 12 members and seven represented the majority. Since then, the membership has been increased to 15 elected lawmakers in 1992 to 18 in 2013.
The membership is due to increase by one more, to 19, at the next general election.
“It was intended that the majority of the House could call a meeting even if Executive Council [now called Cabinet] didn’t want it,” Mr. McLaughlin said.
“With the House presently constituted of 18 elected members, what we have now is an anomaly where the minority can call a meeting but not provide a quorum to conduct business.”
That is precisely what occurred on Wednesday, forcing Speaker Ms. O’Connor-Connolly to adjourn the emergency meeting until April 25.
Independent MLAs Ezzard Miller and Mr. McLean called the government’s move an affront to democracy which would come back to haunt the Progressives at the polls.
“Every government that has tried to control with such strong-arm tactics has paid the price,” Mr. McLean said.