Year in review: Leadership changes, defections and a new political party

Best of enemies: Premier Alden McLaughlin and Opposition Leader Arden McLean clashed over the port project but were on the same page when it came to constitutional reform.

In 2019, Cayman’s political landscape saw a shifting of tides in the Legislative Assembly that not only spurred changes across the aisle of the chamber, but altered Cayman’s relationship with the UK.

At the close of the year, the seating arrangements on both sides of the aisle in the Legislative Assembly chamber were different from when 2019 started.

Cayman had a new opposition leader in the form of East End MLA Arden McLean, and two new members, while Premier Alden McLaughlin had one fewer member on his back bench.

Opposition split

Early in the year, the cracks in the Opposition, led then by North Side MLA Ezzard Miller, started to show. The dissension among members started playing out in the public domain and it all came to a head in May, with Miller resigning as leader.

It later saw the ascension of East End MLA McLean as leader.

Miller not only left the leader’s chair, but the opposition entirely, opting to return to the south-west corner he and McLean had occupied for years when they worked together as a duo of independent legislators.

The support for Miller within the opposition bench started crumbling months before his eventual departure. Two letters were issued to Miller questioning his leadership. While neither called outright for him to step down, the writing was already on the wall. He no longer had the support of the opposition team.

The MLAs took issue with his public support for civil unions for same-sex couples and his agreement on constitutional changes without formally discussing it with the members, as well as his announcement of a new political party in the works.

Miller would later declare, in his resignation letter, that it had “become increasingly clear that the level of cohesion, industry and commitment necessary for any opposition to serve in the best interest of all the people of these islands is not possible given the current slate of independent members who made up the group.”

After his departure, the opposition saw the return of George Town MLA Kenneth Bryan to the fold. He had initially sat as an independent member, unaffiliated with the opposition group. His return would be the first of two additions to the opposition benches.

Switching seats: Bernie Bush, right, moved from the government back benches to join the opposition group.

Bernie Bush’s ‘port-exit’

It was the ongoing debate over plans for a multi-million-dollar cruise berthing facility and the triggering of a referendum on that contentious issue that served as a catalyst for the departure of MLA Bernie Bush from the government benches.

Bush, a former member of the Cayman Democratic Party, opted to make his “Prexit” or port exit as he termed it, during a debate on the referendum law that paved the way for the vote on the project.

He said at the time that he could not support the project moving forward, saying he had polled his constituents and could not find more than two who supported the project.

As a parting shot, Bush said he was not for sale or for rent. The comment earned him the wrath of House Speaker McKeeva Bush who asserted that such a statement implied that other members were for sale or for rent in the Legislative Assembly.

Premier McLaughlin said Bernie Bush’s departure did not come as a surprise as the MLA had been working counter to the government for some time and was not actively participating in the administration.

“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.

Cayman Islands People’s Party leader Ezzard Miller, centre, and his interim chairman, left, Donovan Ebanks, secretary Gilbert Connolly, right, and treasurer Levon Bodden, foreground.

New political party takes shape

This year also saw a new entrant on the political landscape as Miller unveiled his Cayman Islands People’s Party logo and constitution.

The People’s Party is the third formal political party in the Cayman Islands.

At present, there is the PPM or Progressives, led by Premier McLaughlin, and the Cayman Democratic Party, led by House Speaker Bush.

The new party has been formally registered as a political party with the Elections Office.
Miller, flanked by his interim chairman Donovan Ebanks, a former Cayman Islands chief secretary, interim executive secretary Gilbert Connolly, and interim treasurer Levon Bodden, announced the new party in November.

The North Side MLA will formally launch the party in January 2021, together with a full slate of 19 candidates to contest the May 2021 elections. He also said that, in the coming months, his party will begin laying the groundwork to establish its 19 electoral district committees, which will feed in to form the party’s 62-member central council.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, Lord Tariq Mahmood Ahmad and then Leader of the Opposition Ezzard Miller met in London last year for constitutional talks.

Constitutional changes

Cayman’s legislators marked several historic milestones in the Legislative Assembly in 2019, the uppermost being the passing of constitutional changes that alter how the UK legislates for these islands.

Through the changes, there will be a mandatory requirement for the UK to consult with the premier on any legislation or Order in Council that may directly impact the Cayman Islands, and Cabinet can signify its view on the legislation or Order.

The changes also include provisions removing the governor’s power to write legislation and standing orders, as well as the right to disallow any legislation.

McLaughlin secured the support of the Legislative Assembly to get the changes approved without the need for a referendum.

Bodden Town West MLA Chris Saunders, who had strongly advocated for a referendum, opted to support the changes as time was against legislators, with the UK headed for its general election and the possibility of a change in government looming large.

“This is not about political versus non-political. This is about survival versus non-survival. I have many political differences with the premier and his government but … this issue will not be one of them, as tempting as it is with everything going on with the port,” Saunders said.

Lawmakers would end their legislative agenda by signing off on the largest budget in local history, a record $1.5 billion over the next two years.

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