Government has no plans to proceed with a referendum on the cruise port project, despite its decision to continue with a legal appeal connected to the proposed $200 million development.
Premier Alden McLaughlin suggested Thursday that, as far as his administration was concerned, the project was effectively dead, but government is pursuing the appeal because of the legal principles at stake.
With the current turmoil in the cruise industry, it is not clear that the deal with the Verdant Isle Port Partners consortium, which involves Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, is still practical.
“The cruise port referendum is not something that is even on the government’s agenda for the rest of this term,” McLaughlin said. “Whatever happens with that, it will be another government that deals with it.”
He said his administration was dealing with a global public health emergency and trying to keep the economy from collapsing.
“That is going to occupy all of our time for the rest of this term and well beyond for whoever is in charge thereafter,” he said.
“The holding of such a referendum is not on the government’s agenda at all.”
The premier was answering questions, during Thursday’s press briefing, about why government was proceeding with an appeal against a court judgment which struck down its initial referendum law for the cruise port.
He said the scheduling of the appeal, set for a court hearing via Zoom video-link in May, was not in his hands.
McLaughlin went on to say that the point of the appeal was not the practical issue of the referendum, but was borne out of concerns about the impact of the ruling on democracy.
He said the Grand Court judge’s decision in February to strike down a law that had been passed by the elected members was “judicial activism on steroids”.
The premier said the case was “a major constitutional issue” about whether the court was entitled to put itself in the role of elected legislators.
Shirley Roulstone, a leading member of Cruise Port Referendum Cayman – the campaign group which successfully petitioned for a referendum – won a judgment earlier this year preventing the vote from taking place under the framework the Cayman Islands government had set out.
Her lawyers highlighted concerns that government’s bespoke referendum law included no restrictions on campaign financing or using public funds to sway the vote, among other issues. They argued that the wording of the Constitution indicates there must be an overarching law setting out the rules and regulations for referendums to ensure an equal chance of success for both sides.
Grand Court Justice Timothy Owen agreed with some of those points and struck down the law in February. Government filed its appeal in March and argued, among other things, that Owen had breached the ‘separation of powers’ between the judiciary and the legislature when he had moved to strike down the law.
McLaughlin emphasised those arguments again Thursday, saying, “It can’t be right that the court can decide what legislation can be passed by the Legislative Assembly.”
While the court hearing may determine how future people-initiated referendums are handled, the likelihood of this particular vote or the pier project now going ahead appears minimal.