Central Kingstown lawmaker St. Clair Leacock has warned spokespersons for his New Democratic Party (NDP) about sending mixed messages about vaccination against COVID-19.
NDP Leader Godwin Friday, last year, long before vaccines became available, had said that he would be vaccinated once the jabs became available.
And, Friday, along with his wife and one of their sons, was among the first set of Vincentians to get vaccinated when the jabs became available a few weeks ago.
Since then, he has been encouraging Vincentians to get vaccinated, saying this is important for health and economic reasons.
However, Margaret London, last Friday’s host of the NDP radio programme on NICE Radio, sent mixed messages about the NDP’s position.
London noted her expertise as a nurse and pointed out the importance and effectiveness of vaccines and said that the party was encouraging persons to get vaccinated.
She, however, joined with some callers in suggesting that persons — presumably supporters of the ruling Unity Labour Party — who had received the government’s “Love Boxes” (food parcels) during the election campaign last year, should be among the first to take the jab.
In his weekly appearance on the same programme on Wednesday, Leacock spoke to the issues, saying that he has repeatedly said that he would rather be second, third, or fourth place in government rather than being “a gold dinar in opposition”.
“The business of the New Democratic Party is not about being the best opposition party in the Eastern Caribbean, the Caribbean or any part of the geography of the world for that matter,” he said.
He said that the person administering the affairs of the party must support the mission identified by the party, ideally at its annual convention meetings.
The Central Kingstown MP said that once that is done, it is important for the president and other persons in supporting role, including the hosts of the party’s radio programmes, to direct the affairs of the party in such a way that the objective of being in government is accomplished.
“The party absolutely respects the right of any and of all individuals to their own opinions and to ask searching questions as to whether to do or not to do. And it is not our business to go and beat anybody into submission,” Leacock said.
“But, equally, the party has to search for what is the optimal decision, that decision which would give the state … and would put us, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in the best position possible. That is, we have to look even beyond the party’s political interest … put country before party; put the people first.”
Leacock said that people who are listening carefully around the world would see there is a waging and raging debate of the pros and cons of how to reopen societies.
He said that the United States, Canada, and the UK are accelerating the rate at which they are vaccinating their people and various persons, including religious, sport, cultural, and business leaders are encouraging persons to get vaccinated.
He said that the largest population centres of Vincentians in the world are in the United States.
“So we can’t be indifferent to what is happening to our Vincentian folk outside of St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” he said, adding that he was happy to receive a WhatsApp message from his daughter in the United States saying she was recovering from post-vaccination chills.
“And so, there is a worldwide movement and in the same way that I am speaking of those who are for, I am equally aware of those who have an alternative point of view. “But, if you want to be head of the New Democratic Party, you also have to be prepared that you have a country to run, called St. Vincent and the Grenadines. You have to feed the mouths, provide livelihood and living for the 100,000 or how ever many Vincentians who are on this rock and those who are off of the rock, but whose navel string is still inextricably linked to the fortunes of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. You can’t lose sight of that.”
Leacock said that the leader of the party had made it clear that he would lead by example and he and his family went early to take the vaccine.
He said that Friday had invited him to go take the vaccine but he had not as yet had proper conversation with his family.
“I was at fault not informing my wife that the invitation was there,” Leacock said, but added that he later took the jab and some of his employees also did so.
He further noted that he had used the party’s radio programme to encourage his constituents to take the vaccine.
“That is my own independent position, but it is also consistent and in support of the party,” Leacock said, adding that it is fine to have independent positions on certain matters.
“But we can share those inside as a collective and have agreements and disagreements and they are normally healthy things to have disagreements.”
He, however, said that what is said publicly should be the agreed position of the party.
“It is not a time for equivocation. And we cannot, therefore, encourage and facilitate every conversation that negates or takes away, or changes the course of direction that the party wants to lay down.
“Because, indeed, we will become a laughing stock within the eastern Caribbean, within the Caribbean and the world, if we, as a small island state, were to go in the wrong direction.”
He noted that in Brazil, which is led by “one of the few people who is going against the grain in the world”, hospitals are still overflowing.
“I am not questioning people’s own wisdom but I believe that the people who elected us to office in the New Democratic Party are looking upon us for leadership of a kind.”
He said that for the Vincentian economy to rebound, its seafarers must be able to return to work, and tourists have to begin arriving from major source markets.
He, however, said that if these potential tourists are not vaccinated, SVG will see another spike in cases and “we are back up into the air and our tourism dollars dry up back again”.
He said there are similar implications for itinerant traders in in agricultural produce, known locally as traffickers, who cannot go to neighbouring islands to ply their trade.
“And Trinidad, for all of its worth, finds itself in a very dark place. It is way behind all the other Caribbean countries with respect to its vaccination programme. It is not going to get its vaccine until somewhere back in the April and it is still a drop in the bucket and they are still in a lot of trouble.”
Leacock said what happens in Trinidad regarding the opening of the economy affects trade with SVG.
He said that the current situation affects everyone and the NDP, therefore, has to be clear with its stance.
“And, in opposition, we must be able to satisfy ourselves and satisfy the people that we can so function and operate when we are in government. You can’t have one set of credence that this is the message for when you are in opposition on a national issue, but if we get into government we will do something differently.
“And, therefore, I make no apology, none whatsoever, when I am in the studio or whether I am functioning as a vice president of the New Democratic Party and I am speaking to an issue which I am seeing that the direction of the conversation is inconsistent with the mission of the party,” he said.
“And let me say it in very blunt terms, it is extremely painful for me at this age where we find ourselves still in opposition now with all our rightful claims of being a majority party when, if, sometimes we had button-holed some things and pinned it down lock and bolt, we could have different outcomes.
“This after the fact thing is something I am – it’s sad and it’s going to be very hard to spend another five years to come away with ‘I told you so’ and ‘we should have’ and we could have and should have and would have and ‘we ought to have’,” Leacock said.
“Because some things are crystal clear that have to be done if the New Democratic Party has to get into government….
“Because anyone of us who falls short short-circuits the whole system and one more time we find ourselves in opposition again. Too long inna that. It’s time to call a spade a spade and do what needs to be done.”
In general elections last November, the ULP was returned to office for a fifth consecutive term, with the NDP returning to opposition, where it has been since 2001, when it lost the government, after 17 years.
The NDP, however, won the majority vote for the first time since 1998.