Opposition mull options after Govt lose House votes
Government’s losing streak in the House of Assembly is a sign of a “lame duck” administration in a “precarious position”, according to former MP Kim Swan.
And the Opposition Progressive Labour Party is mulling its options — believed to include a no-confidence vote — should the Government be “further weakened”.
Losing three votes — all in the last two parliamentary sittings — was unnecessary and can be attributed to an attitude of “sheer hardheadedness” on the Government side, according to Independent MP Terry Lister.
Mr Lister said that Government should have asked to “rise and report progress” when it was clear they would lose a proposed amendment to the Human Rights Amendment Act, and returned with a compromise that would have met with unanimous support.
“This is where the element of hardheadedness is coming through to their detriment,” he said. “Individual Ministers have to raise their game to the point where they understand that compromise is not a sign of weakness.”
Mr Swan, for his part, insists that Bermuda has a “lame duck” government because it cannot carry its agenda in Parliament.
“It was more than ten years before any PLP administration lost a vote in Parliament but the OBA have lost three votes within its first six months.
“The irony is that with this vulnerable status the actions of the OBA have been inconsistent with their fragile political state — repeated vitriolic utterances that we have heard from Government benches and officials since December 2012 do not reflect the true mood of the Country. In hindsight a more humble approach would have been a wiser choice.”
Mr Swan added that Government lulled itself into a false sense of security when Mr Horton agreed to be nominated for Speaker and Mr Lister decided to quit the PLP and sit as an independent.
“Now the Cannonier administration has the dubious distinction of having failed to carry its agenda in the House on three separate votes.”
With just 19 One Bermuda Alliance MPs to the PLP’s 15 (the Speaker only votes to break a tie) and one independent, party discipline is key to pushing through Government’s agenda.
But the OBA has shied away from using the party whip — a mechanism to ensure strict discipline in terms of voting and attendance.
Yesterday, PLP MP Walton Brown agreed the OBA’s discipline could be called into question. He added that its opposition to his motion went counter to its own stated commitment to openness and transparency.
The PLP will not oppose Government’s proposals for the sake of opposing but “we will, however, oppose any measure which reduces opportunities for the most vulnerable and takes back democratic rights that have been extended to people. And we will do so vigorously”, Mr Brown continued.
“We have been made aware of murmurs of discontent within the OBA — a party which has always been an alliance of people opposed to the PLP but whose members have diverging views about how Bermuda should be governed and whose interests should be promoted. If this alliance is further weakened — either by lost parliamentary votes, or other manifestations — we will consider, as the official Opposition, what steps should be taken to ensure the people's will is duly reflected in Parliament.”
There are already indications the PLP may oppose Government proposals for fixed term elections and reform of the municipalities.
Government whip Cole Simons said his party faces a “numbers crunch on any given day” in parliament because of its wafer thin majority.
“The Premier and I have spoken to all our members about the importance of scheduling their activities around the days Parliament is sitting, and that message has been received and understood.
“I think it’s important to underline the point that losing a vote is not necessarily a bad thing. It keeps us on our toes. That’s the nature of our Parliamentary democracy and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”
He welcomed Mr Brown’s comments on being a constructive Opposition and said his party shared the goal of preserving opportunities for the most vulnerable and protecting democratic rights.
But, he said, the PLP MP was engaging in “wishful thinking” for saying the OBA is divided.
“It is a possible attempt to keep people’s attention off the fact that his Party is the only Party to have reduced in number in Parliament since the December election.”
Government’s first parliamentary loss came with the Human Rights Amendment Act 2013, when it attempted to withdraw its own proposed amendment — believed to be flawed — which would have expanded the scope of unlawful harassment.
The PLP opposed the move, urging the Government to withdraw just one offending section. The matter came down to a vote — which the Government lost, 15-14, when Kenneth Bascome did not make it back to the Chamber in time for the count.
Both Premier Craig Cannonier and Finance Minister Bob Richards were travelling at the time. Government MP Suzann Holshouser was chairing the House Committee and Nandi Davis was absent.
Another defeat came on Friday when Government tried to scuttle PLP MP Walton Brown’s motion to set up a select committee on elections by proposing an alternative “take note” motion.
That was defeated when House Speaker Randy Horton cast the tie breaking vote. Just 15 Government members were in the House then, while all the PLP MPs and independent MP Terry Lister were in attendance.
The Government side was silent when the Speaker asked for a voice vote on Mr Brown’s motion.