“Miss Baptiste clearly felt that her responsibilities to the Thusians was stronger than her membership of the [NDP].” – Leacock
KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Anesia Baptiste would have also lost her senate appointment if Vice-president of the New Democratic Party, St. Clair Leacock were party leader.
Leacock said on Monday that he fully supports the decision of Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace to fire Baptiste from the senate.
Eustace, who is head of the NDP, fired Baptiste last Thursday after she wrote in an 11-page letter refusing to abide by a party policy to refrain from making adverse statements about religions.
“If I were in a position of Mr. Eustace as leader of a party and someone had written me a letter in that way, to be so offensive, to be so insensitive, to be so abrasive, and downright rude, I would have made the same decision Mr. Eustace made,” Leacock said.
“I would have terminated and revoked their position. Because I couldn’t see how he (Eustace) could have, out of self-respect, continue to see himself as leader of a party … where anyone could feel they can be so disrespectful of him and continue to be a member of the organisation. It doesn’t work that way. It simply doesn’t work that way,” he further said.
Leacock, speaking on an NDP programme where Eustace was also making his weekly appearance, said that the development is “an indication that we have to tighten the level of party discipline so that we can accomplish the mission that is there: to gain governance.
“I want to say that membership should be assured that their trust is vested in good and capable hands, wise and collective leadership and Mr. Eustace at the moment is exercising prudence — measured positions that can carry St. Vincent forward.
“The problems of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are very clear. They are economic, they are social and Mr. Eustace is the right man at the right time to carry this country forward,” Leacock said.
The Central Kingstown representative said 17 members of the NDP’s Strategy Committee supported the policy on religion at a meeting last week Tuesday, while Baptiste’s was the only dissenting voice.
The policy was adopted after Shefflorn Ballantyne, a prospective NDP candidate in the next elections –constitutionally due in 2015 — said on radio in early April that the Catholic Church has doctrines similar to those of a church here that has been described as a “cult”.
Both Baptiste and Ballantyne are members of the Thusian seventh-day adventist church, a splinter from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.
Leacock said that he spoke privately to Baptiste about Ballantyne’s comments even before two constituents from West St. George — where Baptiste is scheduled to represent the NDP in the next election — complained to Eustace.
He told Baptiste that Ballantyne’s statements could affect Baptiste, Ballantyne, and the entire NDP — advice that was “not well received”.
“… she emphatically stated to me, there is no way such statements or accusations could affect her and she parted company with me angrily,” said Leacock, who said at a recent NDP press conference, in reference to House Speaker Hendrick Alexander, that he is a grown man and no one “scolds me”.
Leacock said it was not the first time, as an NDP vice-president, that he had given advice, only “to be brushed or shunned aside” by Baptiste, who, in her letter, said persons had complained to her about Leacock’s public behaviour with a woman who is not his wife.
Leacock said that at the meeting last Tuesday, NDP members gave their opinions on the policy and shared personal experiences of how they had reconciled their religion and their politics.
According to Leacock, among those speaking of their experiences were former ministers Burton Williams and Allan Cruikshank, both Seventh-Day Adventists, and Marcus De Freitas of the Gospel Hall.
Leacock is a Roman Catholic while Eustace is a Methodist.
“Here you have 17 people, giving of their best thinking. Nobody says, as a private person, or as a member of another organisation, you are not entitled to a view and it could be as strong as ever.
“But all one was asking for was an application of common sense,” he said, adding that these views should not be expressed in a way “that it may be made to feel that your views are those of the New Democratic Party on a sensitive matter.”
He further said that it was not true that Baptiste was brushed aside when she attempted to play at the meeting a recording of Ballantyne’s actual comments.
They were unsuccessful in doing so although two laptop computers were used, three hours into the meeting, according to Leacock.
“All that time, time is running out and people are getting hungry and tired of the meeting and we thought we had exhausted discussions,” he said.
Religion, politics, the Constitution
Leacock said that the NDP has to have an open policy on religion, adding that petitions of religious organisations seeking incorporation are laid in the Parliament.
“It’s also for good reasons that the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines anticipates precisely problems of this nature and ask that if you are a minister in a religion that you cannot contest electorally.
“Because the world knows it, there have been more religious wars than there have been political and economic wars from time immemorial,” he said.
Leacock said that many constituencies are won marginally and offending the religion of one family might upset up to ten households, thereby swinging an election.
“Because people may take their Catholicism very seriously and visit upon the New Democratic Party. That’s the point we were bringing over,” Leacock said, adding that while he is a Catholic, he “could understand the differences that people have” with some Catholic doctrines and practices.
Leacock defended the NDP policy, which Baptiste said was anti-rights and freedom.
“There is nothing in Mr. Eustace’s statement, nothing in his action that compromises religious freedom or prevent it in any member from conducting himself that is unconstitutional in anyway.”
Implications of Baptiste stance
Leacock said that Baptiste’s refusal to abide by the consensus decision has serious implications if she is elected as part of a government.
He noted the position Baptiste took although she is “a nominated Member [of Parliament], at the pleasure of the leader of the party.
“ What would happen if she is elected and become a member of a Cabinet where responsibility is shared? … Who will be able to speak to you ministerially?” Leacock said.
He further stated that when the NDP Strategy Committee meets “we are in fact rehearsing our positions for that eventually when we become ministers of government.
“If we can’t get it right in opposition, we are not going to get it right in government. And these are fundamental issues.”
He said that Baptiste had a choice.
“And Miss Baptiste clearly felt that her responsibilities to the Thusians was stronger than her membership of the New Democratic Party and that’s the choice.
“What she is basically saying is that these two things can’t coexist and if something has to give, it is that of the New Democratic Party.”
He, however, said that the former senator has leadership potential.
“But if you are a leader, you must understand the requirements of followership and therefore think as a follower and do those things that will enhance the leader of the New Democratic Party,” Leacock said.
He added: “There are too many occasion in the New Democratic Party in which I think the pressure under which Mr. Eustace is brought is unacceptable and untenable,” Leacock said.