In the hurly-burly of politics, well-intentioned words can often be turned into putrescent bile. And in an election year, they can also be interpreted in even worse light.
Canadian High Commissioner to Barbados Marie Legault has found herself at the centre of controversy due to some of her recent utterances. Under normal, sane circumstances, the furore her comments have generated would be nothing more than a storm in a teacup. But fewer than four months before a general election is a time when sanity does not always prevail and teacups are prone to boil over significantly.
In January this year, political commentator Maureen Holder in one of her less cogent moments, made the ludicrous call for a national debate on whether Barbados was ready for a female prime minister. A dispassionate assessment of Barbados’ social and political situation, would have informed Miss Holder that Barbados is as ready for a female prime minister now as it has been previously, and will be in the future. We have never had a national debate on whether Barbados should have had only male prime ministers before. Nor have we had a discourse on whether it is time for a moratorium on male prime ministers in the interest of gender equality. In this political scenario, the gender of the prime minister is completely irrelevant.
In 21st century Barbados both male and female politicians have been exposed to the same socio-economic dynamics that would lead any individual from an institution of learning to a political party, through the political hustings, and to the floor of Parliament. Miss Holder’s call – to borrow from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart – should have been punished with laughter of the raucous variety. Her suggestion for a national debate ought to have been dismissed as simply obese idiocy. But, it caught the attention of the Canadian High Commissioner.
Last Thursday while addressing an International Women’s Day event at the Hilton Barbados Resort, the Canadian diplomat said the Caribbean had already produced four female heads of government and five heads of state, including our current Governor General, Dame Sandra Mason. She added that there was room for more females in top positions. She also responded directly to Miss Holder. “I was taken aback when in January I saw political analyst Maureen Holder asking if Barbados was ready for a female prime minister and advocating for a national debate on it. I think every country is ready for a male or female prime minister. Gender does not have an impact.”
She then went on to give statistics on the participation of women in regional politics. “In terms of women’s participation in politics, Grenada has led the way with 33 per cent women in parliament and Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago at 31 per cent. On the opposite side of the spectrum, currently Belize only counts with 9.4 per cent women in parliament, and St Kitts, Antigua and Barbuda and St Vincent and the Grenadines, between 11 and 13 per cent”. The occasion and the context in which Mrs Legault spoke ought to be taken into consideration.
But the reality is that the current leader of the Opposition is a female. And, not surprisingly, some from both sides of the political divide interpreted Mrs Legault’s statement as an endorsement of Miss Mottley to become Prime Minister of Barbados in the not-too-distant future. But, to be fair to her, Mrs Legault did no such thing. Her stated position was that the eligibility for leadership of the country was not a matter of gender and that males and females should be given equal consideration and therefore Barbados was ready for a female prime minister, as much as it has had only males since 1966.
She has drawn the understandable wrath of Minister of Education Ronald Jones, who, perhaps, also took what she said as an endorsement of Miss Mottley. In a scathing rebuke of the High Commissioner Mr Jones basically called for her expulsion from Barbados. Within the context of Mrs Legault’s statement, that call was somewhat over the top.
But what about Mrs Legault? As a diplomat, should she have been more conscious of the period of time at which her remarks were made? Should she have made the pointed indication to all and sundry that she was not being directly supportive of Miss Mottley or indeed Miss Lynette Eastmond in their push to create political history? Perhaps!
As a High Commissioner, trained in the art of diplomacy, maybe she should have been more sensitive as to how her comments could be construed in the present political climate. But, hindsight is blind.
However, while Mrs Legault offers her opinions on Barbados and the region, she should be mindful to reflect that Barbados’ democracy is just over 51 years old. Canada has been a self-governing entity since July 1, 1867, when Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia became united. Since that time – 151 years ago – Canada has had 23 prime ministers with one female in Kim Campbell serving as its 19th for the period June 25, 1993, to November 4, 1993 – a princely total of 132 days. Maybe that is also a debate to undertake, as well as the consideration as to when her cosmopolitan nation will have its first prime minister of African descent.