(CNS): Mario Rankin, one of the organisers of the Cruise Port Referendum campaign, has taken aim at the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, who, despite his supposedly neutral office, has been weighing in on the polarising debate about the project and dismissing the campaigners. In response to comments by McKeeva Bush suggesting that campaigners will never get the signatures they need to trigger a people-initiated vote, Rankin told CNS that the veteran politician was out of touch with the people and had been in office too long. He said it was time for Bush to retire as he clearly no longer understood what the people do and don’t want.
Since taking up the position of speaker following the 2017 elections, when he opted to join forces with Alden McLaughlin’s PPM and support a coalition government, Bush has not let what is supposed to be the apolitical position he now holds stand in the way of making his positions on issues known.
Bush has been a particularly outspoken speaker, inside and outside of the Legislative Assembly, and recently told the local television station that the government should not pay any attention to the campaign for a national ballot on whether or not the Cayman Islands should embark on the controversial development.
“They’re not gonna get no signatures to do that with, and government can’t pay attention to that; we have to do what is right,” Bush told Cayman 27 this week, adding that Cayman had to “advance, and we cannot advance by standing still”.
Bush, who is still the leader of the Cayman Democratic Party, also called for changes in the law to pave the way for a skyscraper on Seven Mile Beach in his New Year message, and continued to push for more and more development on Grand Cayman. But Rankin described Bush’s comment as ridiculous and insisted that the Cayman Islands should not be destroying its environment for projects that the majority of local people do not support.
“It’s really very unfortunate that the speaker is so out of touch with what the people actually want. If he wasn’t he would understand exactly what the people think about the cruise port project and he would not say such ignorant and ridiculous things about developing 50-storey skyscrapers,” he said. “We do not need to destroy our environment to maintain a successful tourism product and if he was not so out of touch he would be more aware of public opinion.”
Rankin said he believed that Bush has been in politics too long now and has lost his vision, noting that the campaign is getting closer by the day to the near 5,300 signatures from registered voters it needs to trigger a referendum on the proposed cruise project.
Opposition Leader Ezzard Miller also expressed his concerns about Bush’s comments and pointed to the neutral office that he holds.
“The speaker should stay out of the political fray,” he told CNS emphatically, as he accused him of undermining the status of the office by taking sides in polarising debates in public forums. “But I can assure the speaker we are going to get the necessary names required to trigger the referendum.”
Miller has said he will be doing what he can over the coming weeks to ensure the campaign is successful and vowed to go door to door himself with the petition if needs be to get the last few names to seal the vote. He pointed out that the people are perfectly entitled to pursue a referendum under the constitution.
“He should not be undermining the campaign for a democratic process, but of course we all know that he did not vote for it,” Miller said about the speaker.
Bush has largely backed the proposed cruise port development over the years, though during the 2017 campaign he criticised the plans for this current project, which were started under the last PPM-led administration. Since joining forces with his former political nemesis, however, he has begun backing the costly and controversial project and has urged his supporters not so sign the petition — which Rankin said had not worked, as many of his supporters have signed up for a vote on the project.
The referendum itself has become extremely politicised, especially after the government began spending public money on advertising that suggested simply supporting a national ballot on the issue was itself a ‘no’ to the port.
This is one of the reasons why campaigners believe government workers who support the idea of a referendum, given the massive implications of this proposed project, are still afraid to put their names to the petition, regardless of reassurances from senior management that those civil servants not directly involved in tourism or policy making can do so.
Despite the challenges presented by the reluctance of thousands of registered voters who work in the public sector to sign, the campaigners have still collected almost 5,000 names.
The Cruise Port Referendum campaign is joining forces this weekend with a number of environmental activist groups, as well as the National Trust, to host an open family education and entertainment day on Saturday at the South Sound Civic Centre in a major push to keep the community engaged and attract the last signatures required.
Anyone who would like to sign the petition, including civil servants, can contact campaigners on 327 5411, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman FB page for more information.