Opposition Senator Wade Mark yesterday accused Independent Senator Anthony Vieira of toting feelings, as he responded to Vieira’s motion to censure the Opposition for their “unparliamentary conduct” during the October 21 meeting of the Electoral College.
Mark described the motion when it came up for debate in the Upper House as frivolous, vexatious, shameful, disgraceful, vacuous and lacking in substance.
“The mover, Senator Anthony Vieira, has not provided any serious grounds for the basis of the resolution. It is about trauma, it is about traumatised, it’s about feelings and as the youths would say, the member is toting feelings,” he said.
He added that parliamentarians are supposed to be thick-skinned.
“And if you cannot take the heat, I call on Senator Anthony Vieira to get out of the kitchen,” Mark said. He said the very structure of the Constitution was being challenged by Vieira’s motion.
“Inherent in our Constitution is the concept of the separation of powers. And there is in our Constitution a provision for the leader of the Opposition and for an official Opposition. The whole concept behind a Senate of Independent men and women is to bring balance and sobriety and proper reflection to legislation that comes before this House at all times. And at the end of the exercise, you deal with the public interest. That is what is supposed to guide these nine individuals, not to come at Opposition members,” Mark opined.
He described the motion as highly dangerous.
“And I am also arguing that when we look at what is before us today, we are seeing a clear attempt by Senator Vieira to undermine the role and functions of the legitimate elected Opposition in the Parliament of T&T,” he stated.
He added: “This motion before us is a clear and frontal attack on the freedom of speech and freedom of conscience, which is guaranteed in our Constitution.” During his contribution, Mark also accused Vieira and Independent Senator Paul Richards of assaulting and attacking the Opposition via comments in the media.
However, Richards, in his contribution, clarified:
“I spoke to one reporter, Ria Taitt of the Express, and during our exchange I was asked about the behaviour in the Chamber and at no time did I ascribe the behaviour to a particular person or group of persons.”
Behaviours didn’t arise overnight
Richards said he found the motion to be limited, as it focussed on the behaviours that occurred during the Electoral College sitting “in a vacuum” and as though they arose overnight.
Noting that Mark referenced freedom of thought and expression during his contribution, Richards said freedom of thought was circumscribed by responsibility.
“So you may be able to say what you want as protected by parliamentary privilege, but it is also circumscribed by the ruling of the chair…,” Richards said.
He said while he was dismayed at the behaviours displayed on October 21, he was not surprised based on outbursts he had seen in the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament over the years. He went on to highlight other instances he considered to be “equally egregious parliamentary conduct”.
“I saw in March 2015 a vile, distasteful attack on then Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley by Vernella Alleyne-Toppin who was an MP at the time. And I have also seen equally crass attacks on the Leader of the Opposition Mrs Persad-Bissessar, both as Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. I have seen members hurl vitriolic comments across the floor in both Houses. So why do we think for one minute the Electoral College would be any different if we had not stepped in to stymie those sorts of behaviours and outbursts over the years?” he asked.
He pointed out that no one leader can guide a country forward, especially through the crisis facing the country now.
“This crisis we are experiencing now is partly why we are not dealing with all our challenges as effectively. Most prominently today, the issue of the Covid-19 pandemic. The division in society now is the reason why we have a stalled vaccination national campaign. It’s the reason why we are lamenting 20 people dying in one day, and the reason why we’re not seemingly able to come together as a country and close these gaps, as opposed to finger-pointing and name-calling and blaming each other,” Richards said.
He said the motion was an opportunity for parliamentarians to look at themselves and how they conduct the business of the people of T&T.
“The decisions we make today, our actions today, will affect generations to come. We need to stop being so selfish and self-centred,” he added.