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December 2022: Quorum call brings House of Assembly to abrupt end

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Trouble in the House: A shortfall in legislators ended with an unusual tactic of parliamentary procedure postponing the debate of landmark minimum wage legislation for one week (File photograph)

The community witnessed an uncommon and controversial example of the parliamentary process in action in December.

As legislators planned to debate the people’s business on December 2, MPs got abruptly put on notice by the Speaker of the House.

Minutes into the afternoon session, Dennis Lister called for MPs to “put your sneakers on and run to this direction”.

It meant that the necessary tally of 14 out of 36 MPs had five minutes to muster at the House.

When time ran out, the House’s business – which included landmark legislation to pass the island’s first minimum wage – had to be adjourned for a week.

Calling for a quorum, as the process is known under parliamentary rules, happens infrequently.

The move sparked a war of words between the ruling Progressive Labour Party and the Opposition.

Jarion Richardson, deputy leader of the One Bermuda Alliance, highlighted the low attendance to the Speaker when MPs returned at 2pm from lunch.

Mr Richardson said the empty seats in Parliament “smacks of arrogance and hubris”.

Neville Tyrrell, the Government Whip, branded the move “a planned PR stunt” by the Opposition.

Mr Tyrrell said the House had contained 11 government MPs with just one OBA MP present – adding that two other Opposition MPs who were present after lunch had ducked out “right before the OBA Whip called for a quorum”.

Mr Lister lamented afterwards: “I am always disappointed when we cannot complete a session.”

Bermuda’s minimum wage nonetheless got debated and approved by the House a week later, and passed by the Senate on December 14.

The flagship legislation was a long time coming for the PLP.

A report from a bipartisan parliamentary joint select committee, tabled in 2018, had called for its gradual introduction.

The Speaker said of the call for a quorum: “Bermuda was bent out of shape about this – but it is not the first time it has happened.”

In 2009, the quorum got deployed in the House at the start of one night’s Motion to Adjourn, when the PLP held the Government and the United Bermuda Party had been relegated to Opposition.

That call came from Walter Roban of the PLP, then a junior minister, who added that although he believed it was the first time the PLP government had used the blocking mechanism, the former UBP government had used it against them in years gone by.

There was a close call in 2000 when PLP legislators mustered sufficient numbers with less than 30 seconds to spare after the UBP spotted empty chairs in the Chamber.

The latest quorum call in the House prompted raised eyebrows among many in the community

Mr Lister opted simply to advise legislators: “Put your sneakers on, be fully dressed, and stay all day.”

Keni Outerbridge

On a sombre note, both houses of the legislature closed their business for 2022 with tributes to Keni Outerbridge, a 20-year-old whose life was claimed by a shooting on the night of December 6.

Michael Weeks, the national security minister, told the House: “The shadow of community violence is heavy over the island today as another family mourns the loss of young life.”

Mr Weeks said the attack to the backdrop of a season of goodwill had left behind “a family who today have more questions than answers”.

In the Upper House, Emily Gail Dill, a government senator and the Junior Minister for National Security, recalled his “pleasant, teddy-bear type personality”.

She told the Senate the island had lost a young man with “an extremely keen mind and a very strong work ethic”.

Reeshemah Darrell, who worked as an educational therapist at Sandys Secondary Middle School during Mr Outerbridge’s time there, said she had become a mentor to him.

Ms Darrell said the tragedy was an opportunity for the community to “stop and think”.

“We do not sometimes invest in our own,” she said. “We are ready to criticise. Are we willing to take that energy and put it into investing?”

She added: “I am going to continue with the family, continuing with the legacy of what he brought.

“We do have talent in Bermuda – we just have to invest.”

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Published January 01, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated December 30, 2022 at 12:19 pm)

December 2022: Quorum call brings House of Assembly to abrupt end

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