MP for Central Kingstown, St. Clair Leacock has apologised for the hard-line position he took on COVID-19 vaccination during the height of the pandemic, saying that he acted based on what he saw as the science then.
“I never fired anybody. I never made it a mandate. I didn’t even attend the session of Parliament but you provide me with an opportunity and that is how big men behave and I am a big man,” Leacock told iWitness News, in Kingstown, on Monday.
“Much of the views that I expressed in the pandemic, now, in hindsight, were wrong. And I publicly apologise for being wrong on those issues, because I acted then on what I considered to be the science of the moment,” Leacock said.
“Time has demonstrated that I may have been too quick on the draw and if that is the abundance of evidence, then, St. Vincent, workers, Major is sorry.”
Leacock and other opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) lawmakers, including Leader of the Opposition Godwin Friday, were among people that responded to public sector unions’ call for people to protest outside the Financial Complex.
The protest was intended to pressure the government to back away from its decision to appeal the judgment in the vaccine mandate case.
Last week, High Court judge Justice Esco Henry ruled that the government’s actions in implementing the mandate in December 2021 constitute a breach of natural justice, contravene the Constitution, were unlawful, procedurally-improper and void.
The court held that the workers who were fired for not taking a COVID-19 jab by December 2021 never ceased to be employed by the government and are entitled to their salaries and benefits as well as punitive damages.
In March 2021, Leacock, a vice-president of the NDP, used the party’s radio show to chide its spokesperson over mixed messages on vaccination.
Margaret London, one of the hosts of the party’s New Times show on NICE Radio had 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 2020 election campaign should be among the first to take the jab.
The NDP has always maintained that it supports COVID-19 vaccination but is opposed to mandatory vaccination. Some NDP lawmakers have publicly stated that they have not taken the jab.
Further, in October 2021, Leacock appealed to teachers to vaccinate against COVID-19.
“Now, my position is one that may cause me votes, but so be it. I cannot be looking at St. Vincent’s outcome for what is best for Major, what is best for just a particular party in a whole exercise. It has to be what’s best for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And as I listen to what has happened all around the world, vaccination is the way to go at this time,” said Leacock then.
Leacock’s comments came as students in St. Vincent and the Grenadines had not returned to the physical classroom since December 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MP told iWitness News, on Monday, that the legal discussion and debate now is “a completely separate discussion to the medical and scientific discussion on COVID”.
iWitness News noted to him that Friday, his party leader, has said that in addition to forgoing an appeal and allowing the workers to return to their jobs, as the court ordered, the government should be magnanimous and apologise to the workers.
iWitness News said that some workers have suggested that getting their jobs back and their money would not undo all of the hurt that they are experiencing and they are asking for the government to apologise.
iWitness News asked Leacock if he thought that to the extent that some workers are asking for it that the government should apologise.
“I take it that you heard me apologise. And I take it that you understand that I can only speak for my action and I can’t take responsibility for others,” Leacock told iWitness News.
“I can say what I would have done had I been in a position of leadership in the government, I would apologise.”
Regarding the government’s announced intention to appeal the court ruling, Leacock noted that Friday and the NDP had long said that an NDP administration would reinstate the workers.
“So, the court ruling is a further vindication of the wise decision that the president of the party and the party have made,” Leacock said.
“And as he has restated, emphatically, we would stop any appeal that the government is trying to invoke in this situation.”
He said that the mantra of the NDP is that the lives of Vincentians will improve the day that an NDP administration takes office.
“This vaccine mandate situation is another way in which we demonstrate life getting better for the people.”
Leacock noted that the court had ruled that the workers never left their jobs.
“They were prevented from working but we are saying in the meanwhile, government hired other young people … to work. And our view is, keep them on. The economy is doing well, that’s the government’s proclamation,” Leacock told iWitness News.
Asked whether he supported the view of the government that the economy is doing well, Leacock said, “What I support, you know, because you cover news all the time.”
Leacock said he was on the picket line because he felt “obligated to stand up and stand back to take note of” the ruling of the court that the government breached several aspects of the law, including the Constitution.
“And over the last several years in this our blessed land, we have had an administration that defines itself as a Labour government, a people-centred government to be at variance with the Labour movement that it claims it champions.”
He noted that the National Labour Congress is not functioning, adding that the SVG Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union — which sued the government over the mandate — have had “the painful responsibility” to take the government to court repeatedly and win on each occasion.
Leacock said people who were “cape-less heroes” during the pandemic and the explosive eruption of La Soufriere volcano have now been placed on the breadline
“These are people who, even with a job, find it difficult to make ends meet. We know what the poverty report says. They cannot pay all of their utilities at the same time — light, phone water. There are people who are unable to make ends meet who have had to take up jobs and opportunities and other initiatives, burn [char]coals, drive taxis, make pepper sauce, have barbeques — not that that anything is wrong with that — but they have had to do that, in this case, to compensate for their loss of their salaries,” Leacock told iWitness News.