The Leader of Opposition Business in the House of Assembly, Santia Bradshaw, Friday locked horns with the Deputy Speaker of the House, Mara Thompson, after the Member of Parliament for St John attacked the “childless” status of two female Opposition members of the House.
The latest ugly episode came amid persistent threats by Minister for Social Care Steve Blackett to report the parents of a 13-year-old boy, who delivered a speech at the Opposition Barbados Labour Party’s (BLP) protest march last Saturday, to the Child Care Board, over his appearance on the political platform.
Friday morning, Thompson made her position known on the issue as she participated in the final sitting for the weeklong Estimates debate.
But while praising the teenager’s oratory skills, she accused the BLP of exploiting the child, and suggested that he should have been engaged in activities more appropriate for children his age.
“I heard one member comment on the presence of a young man with whom I became familiar, and that he was picking up bottles wherever it was, well that is exactly the sort of place the child should be in at that sort of age, at the age of 13.
“At the age of 13 I was riding around Castries on a bicycle, and the gentleman of whom the honourable member was speaking was probably swimming in the sea at Fitts Village. But he was not speaking on political platforms for adults,” Thompson said, before taking her criticism of the BLP even further.
In an obvious reference to party leader Mia Mottley and Bradshaw, who is the Member of Parliament for St Michael South East, Thompson charged that the BLP was currently led “by someone who does not have children”, adding, that “she who sits beside her [meaning Bradshaw] was the same thing”.
“But I appeal to the parents among you, I really think that you should have guided your leader in that situation,” Thompson added.
Bradshaw, who followed in her father Delisle Bradshaw’s footsteps to become the political representative for St Michael South East, was quick to fire back at Thompson’s salvo, arguing that because a woman was childless did not mean that she did not know how to be a parent.
“And I am just mind blown that women parliamentarians could take such a position as I heard this morning,” said Bradshaw, while warning her fellow MPs that “when we stand in this Chamber we have a responsibility to be fair.
“I have no children but I have chosen to come to public life to be able to be an example to other young people, to be able to speak out and to represent my country. That is the choice I made. And I take real disgust to persons who speak in that way because I’ve worked hard to be here.
“I made the sacrifice because my father, who was a politician, didn’t spend the time with me when I was young. Because he spent it representing the people in St Michael South East. And I understand the sacrifice that women must make in public life if they are supposed to give of their best to their constituents and to represent their country,” she insisted.
Bradshaw then launched a broadside of her own, saying Thompson only recently came to hold her position in parliament, following the death of her husband, the former Prime Minister and former St John representative David Thompson back in 2010.
“She’s not worked her way through the ranks. She had her children before she came to public life and she came into a position that was given to her. I have worked for it, the member for St Michael North East [Mottley] has worked for it,” Bradshaw said to applause from the Opposition benches.
“And we must not be judged as women in this country on the basis of being childless because I can tell you, we parent children who are not our own. And I want to make that point abundantly clear to all of you in this chamber on both sides. Be your own judge but don’t judge us. At the end of the day we have made the sacrifice to be here,” Bradshaw added.
She also reminded the House that like the 13-year-old, she too, entered politics as a teenager, speaking on the political platform in the St Michael South East constituency at age 16.
“When the Democratic Labour Party cut the salaries of public officers in this country Mr Chairman, I too, participated in that march. I wasn’t coerced by my father who was then a member of the Barbados Labour Party. I took to the streets fully understanding the implications of what the government of the day was doing in relation to public officers, not influenced by anyone but again, understanding fully and appreciating what it was that was being done at a time in our country,” she said.
Bradshaw also pointed out that Thompson’s late husband also entered the political arena as a young man.
“I don’t know if the Honourable member for St John may not have been aware of the fact that the former member for St John was visible in all of our households as a young man debating as he did, in such a way that certainly inspired not only myself, but also inspired others because of his youth and his understanding of politics and current affairs in this country,” she said.
In her response to Thompson, Opposition Member of Parliament for St Thomas Cynthia Forde told Parliament that over the years, young people had demonstrated a keen interest in pursuing politics.
“That young man may become a leader in the political arena, he may not. But there are so many others who want to get the opportunity, because that’s why we have a youth parliament. Because that is the incubator that will bring forward the potential of those young people, and help them to achieve the ambitions that they possess,” Forde said.