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Opposition leader finding his way

Published: Jul 23, 2013

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Leader of the Opposition Dr. Hubert Minnis pledged that the speaker, Dr. Kendal Major, would not silence him in the House of Assembly despite an order for Minnis to take back remarks he made about Prime Minister Perry Christie’s relationship with fashion designer Peter Nygard. Minnis spoke without following the direction of Major yesterday. The governing side and the speaker did not seem to know how to respond. So, the governing side moved for a suspension after a verbal standoff between Minnis and Major. The House will meet again in two weeks.

Major repeatedly asked Minnis to take his seat, however the opposition leader refused to comply.

“We have an understanding. You are out of order,” Major said.

“Member for Killarney, you are testing the patience of the chair. Member for Killarney, I’m not sure what is planned or what is your strategy, but it will not work in here. I order you to take your seat.

“You are defying the order of this House in so many ways.”

Minnis later told reporters that the only agreement he had with the speaker is that he would think about withdrawing his statements.

“I never said I would withdraw,” Minnis said. “I said I would think about it and I did. My position remains the same.”

Minnis has said he does not understand why he has to withdraw his comments when the speaker has already ordered them expunged from the record. He also argued that the FNM continues to be concerned about the relationship between the government and Nygard. The opposition has charged that Nygard is a financial backer of the PLP and the governing party has brought forward stem cell legislation in part because of this close relationship.

During the two-minute exchange with Minnis on the floor of the House, Major was unable to make the opposition leader bow to his wishes. For an opposition leader who has been criticized for not having “the stuff” to lead, Minnis demonstrated strength by being willing to challenge the speaker and the governing side. Minnis risks being named by the speaker and suspended from the House for a period. If he does not leave the House if he is suspended, the speaker can call for the sergeant at arms to physically expel him.

The opposition leader should stand on principle. If he thinks his comments about the prime minister are warranted, he should never take them back. If the speaker calls for police to drag him out of the House, then so be it.

Leader of Government Business in the House of Assembly Dr. Bernard Nottage yesterday accused Minnis of being “disrespectful” to Major and called for him to apologize.

“That’s what any self-respecting member of Parliament would do,” he said.

This dispute is slowing the government’s agenda in the House. Nottage would like to see Minnis capitulate so the PLP can have its way.

“I hope that we have given sufficient time for the technical matters and operational [procedures] of the House of Assembly to be understood by the leader of the opposition who doesn’t fully seem to appreciate the need for someone who is a leader to abide by the rules,” Nottage said.

“And I’m hoping that the next time we come, he will have appreciated that and will apologize to the speaker for his disrespect to the speaker; he will withdraw the remarks that he made unless he is prepared to prove them and we can move on with the business of the House.”

Minnis can use this moment to prove he is a fearless leader. He should not let PLPs persuade him that following their lead is in his best interest. If Minnis sticks to his position, the public and detractors in his party may begin to have a new perception of him. The leader who stumbled through his first year may get another chance to redefine himself.



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