West Bay North MLA Bernie Bush occupied his new seat on the Opposition benches on Wednesday morning on the final day of the debate of the Referendum Bill.
The former Cayman Democratic Party MLA crossed the floor of the Legislative Assembly during Tuesday night’s debate on the legislation that paves the way for the people-initiated referendum on government’s proposed $200 million port project.
In deciding to walk away, he said, he was following his conscience.
Bush was the last legislator to speak in Tuesday’s debate, reading from a speech titled ‘Prexit – Port Exit’ and saying he had polled his constituents and could not find more than two that supported the project.
“Many of my constituents said to me, ‘We expect you to represent us. We are not comfortable with what is being done, we do not support this, and we expect you to represent us.’ The second thing on my side was the [environmental impact assessment] that is being quoted from is from 2015 and there have been changes made to the plans since then,” he said.
Bush told the Cayman Compass he is not part of the official Opposition as yet. He said he had some decisions to make on his future and he would be meeting with Opposition Leader Arden McLean and his team before making his next move.
“I will have to sit and talk with them. As long as I am allowed to vote my conscience and if the government brings something that is good for the country and I am allowed to still vote for it, then fine,” Bush said.
He said a separate EIA is needed based on the new project designs.
“We have to take care of our tourism product, the original Caymanians that were here and built this tourism product and Stingray City. We cannot do anything to jeopardise that. And when there is a doubt, I would rather err on the side of safety than to err on the side that something can happen that we lose Seven Mile Beach,” he said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking with the Compass following Bush’s departure, said he was not surprised Bush had crossed the aisle.
“I am surprised it has taken this long for him to formalise his separation from the government,” he said.
The premier said despite his “persistent” urging that he should participate since the government’s formation two and a half years ago, Bush never attended a meeting of the government caucus.
“On the contrary, he has consistently spoken publicly against government policies and voted with the Opposition. His physical departure from the government benches has been expected for some time. I hope he finds his place on the Opposition benches more comfortable and productive and I wish him well,” McLaughlin said.
However, Bush told the Compass that, while he was grateful to the premier for adding him to the Public Accounts Committee and always sitting and talking with him, he was “uncomfortable” in his seat. He said he felt it was better to leave than to remain on the government side and not be supportive.
He said during his time on the government backbench, he supported some of the things on the government side, and sometimes had not.
“I think that is my duty. I have always tried to vote my conscience,” he added.
CDP leader and House Speaker McKeeva Bush, responding to Bush’s departure, said he was not taken aback since he knew the West Bay North MLA wanted to go.
“Now he uses every excuse, and what better one than this referendum issue where he thinks the government is losing, to say he must leave the government side where he was sitting for the past two years and getting well paid for it, too,” the speaker said.
Bernie Bush’s departure leaves the Unity government with 12 seats and the Opposition with seven.
The government team consists of McLaughlin; Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell; ministers Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Roy McTaggart, Dwayne Seymour, Tara Rivers and Joey Hew; and councillors Barbara Conolly, Austin Harris, David Wight and Captain Eugene Ebanks. House Speaker McKeeva Bush is also part of that majority.
The official Opposition consists of McLean; his deputy Alva Suckoo; and MLAs Anthony Eden, Kenneth Bryan and Chris Saunders. North Side MLA Ezzard Miller also sits in Opposition along with newly added Bernie Bush.