“The legal advice is very clear. The government should not and need not have any regard to what is now approaching a year-long process of signature collections. It has not risen, the petition, above that standard yet.”
– Premier Alden McLaughlin
It is a rare occasion when this editorial board finds itself wishing that our political leaders would act more … well … political. Even rarer that we urge them to tell the people what they want to hear.
But that is exactly the case following Premier Alden McLaughlin’s public announcement that government is moving full steam head with plans for a new cruise and cargo port in George Town harbour – despite petitioners’ assertions that they have collected enough signatures to trigger a referendum.
Sometimes the problem is not what one says, but how one says it. The premier’s statements on the issue Wednesday in the Legislative Assembly may have been, strictly speaking, accurate. It was the premier’s phrasing that gave many pause.
Take his response to Opposition Leader Arden McLean’s question about petitioners’ announcement that they have sufficient signatures to trigger a people-initiated referendum: “The key word in that question is ‘supposedly’. That summarises where that process is. Ten months after the petition was launched, there is still not even a list yet submitted to the Elections Office for verification.”
This is true, as we presume was his statement that government has been advised by legal counsel that it needn’t halt forward progress on the planning and procurement process unless and until those petitions are submitted and verified. Perhaps in putting the matter so starkly, he intended to convey an impression of prudent caution.
But for listeners already concerned about the details of the long-debated project, his responses must have sounded troublingly dismissive. The Cruise Port Referendum Campaign has said it will submit the petitions next week.
To repeat, this editorial board has taken no position on the project. In the absence of many details, we have been able to offer only conditional support for a cruise berthing pier, provided it could be built quickly to high standards of quality under a reasonable financing arrangement. Our primary concern is the decision-making process be transparent, with plenty of opportunity for public input on the plans.
To date, government has not been particularly forthcoming: Public officials have consistently and repeatedly declined to elaborate on plans or cost estimates for the project, saying they’ll share that information once a successful bidder is chosen. In fact, we can’t help but wonder if some petition signers were motivated not by informed opposition to the project, but because they’ve been left in the dark.
Now that final bids are being evaluated for a recommendation to be made to Cabinet, we may finally be on the brink of understanding government’s vision for the project. That does not mean officials should summarily dismiss – or be dismissive of – their constituents’ desires to be heard.