Backing SDO was a painful decision - Dale Butler
Government backbencher Dale Butler revealed yesterday it was “very painful” for him to vote for a Special Development Order (SDO) for Rosewood Tucker's Point in the House of Assembly.
But he admitted he did so knowing a general election is likely in the next year and conscious that he may not be picked as a PLP candidate if he defied the party line.
The former Cabinet Minister told
The Royal Gazette: “With an election in the next 12 months, all of these things are taken into consideration. I voted because your team puts out a programme and, if you are on the team, you can't keep objecting to the instructions given to you by your fellow teammates.
“Sometimes you can say no but you can't keep doing that. Everyone faces these dilemmas in one way or another. My feelings were expressed in the Progressive Labour Party [caucus], where the rules allow you to speak openly and freely.”
The PLP caucus meeting on the SDO showed how the party had matured, he said.
“They used to shut you down. I remember meetings when it was 'you are taking too long'. Nobody was shut down. At the end of the day, the vote is taken on the inside and the majority ruled it would go ahead.
“There was no three-line whip officially but it's pretty obvious that all matters at these critical stages leading up to an election within the next 12 months would be taken into consideration.”
He added he was aware his record was already being “examined critically” and that some would like to see him leave the PLP.
But he said he had no intention of doing so after joining at the age of 16 and remaining a “loyal and dedicated member”.
Mr Butler spoke out after we approached him about a private Facebook message shown to this newspaper, in which he outlined his opposition to the SDO and said a referendum should be held.
The Warwick North East MP wrote: “As I am often reminded...not from the hierarchy but by the members....you joined a team and when the captain says shoot you follow the captain's advice or go back on the bench or you will never be on the field of play.
“Real democracy will only come when we are all paid the same: Ministers and backbench, say $70,000. That way you never have to consider the advantages one has in the form of salary, cars etc.
“It is as simple as that and something we don't want to face....which is the grim reality of leaving one's job to serve.”
He continued: “If you get kicked out, or you are NOT selected to run again, you may not get your job back in this climate and at your current age. So you tow the line. Or don't speak....if you hope to run again.”
If approved by the Senate next week, the controversial SDO would remove zoning restrictions on the land and allow five-star resort Tucker's Point to apply for permission to build another 78 private homes and 70 hotel rooms.
Environmentalists say such a development would destroy important wildlife habitats, while descendants of families who were forcibly removed from Tucker's Town in the 1920s also oppose the plans.
The SDO was approved by 21 to ten votes in the House on February 28, with all the Government MPs present voting in favour.
Mr Butler said: “It was painful. That's why I didn't speak. It was very painful. Politicians are faced with these decisions all the time.
“Sometimes they resign from a party or resign as a Minister, as I did [in June 2009, after speaking out against then Premier Ewart Brown's handling of the arrival of four former Guantánamo Bay prisoners].
“The hardest part of all this is that you have a very limited way of judging your constituents' feelings.”
He said he canvassed his constituents and about 30 told him they supported Government on the SDO, with about ten against.
“I have really reached out to my constituents to give me direction and it was just a poor response for them,” he said. “When the majority said vote for it, I had to.”
Mr Butler said of the proposals by Tucker's Point to build on Quarry Hill and Paynter's Hill in Hamilton Parish: “That's a virgin piece of land there. It's not that difficult to have a referendum bill or run a referendum in a four or five-week period. I think Bermuda has to consider moving in that direction.”
Useful websites: www.tuckerspoint.com, www.best.org.bm, www.plp.bm