By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Christie administration’s track record could doom the upcoming gender equality referendum, as there is growing public dissatisfaction towards the government and its handling of similar votes.
During a community forum in Long Island last week, officials of the YES Bahamas campaign were urged by residents to “rethink” the way it was approaching its campaign, as voters are becoming more disinterested with proposals put forward by the current PLP administration.
Long Island Chief Councillor Ian Knowles cautioned YES Bahamas representatives that the upcoming vote is not about gender equality for voters, but more about how the electorate feels about the government.
“Go to the street, don’t take my word for it, go out there and ask the people, this is what they are telling you,” said Mr Knowles during a forum held by YES Bahamas at NGM Major High School in Long Island last Thursday.
“Concerns do exist with the public and those concerns centre on trust. It doesn’t come down to equality for our sons and daughters. They brought this back in 2002 and we in Long Island voted yes.”
Referring to the PLP’s actions in that failed referendum, Mr Knowles said: “The same people who in the House (of Assembly) voted yes and supported it, came out, change their minds (and then told the public to vote no).”
“Now they are coming back to us and saying vote for this. That is the sad part, when you talk to common people on the street, their minds are almost made up, although they know in certain instances that it is the right thing to do, they are finding it hard to trust the messages that are coming from the government and who is behind the message,” he added.
He was referring to the constitutional referendum brought by the Ingraham administration in February 2002. PLP parliamentarians voted in support of the referendum bills, however the then opposition party later changed its mind on the issue and urged the electorate to vote against the proposed changes. That referendum dealt with issues of gender equality among other things.
Mr Knowles insisted that the Christie administration does not have the track record to sway voters to support the June 7 referendum.
He said the government’s handling of the 2013 gaming referendum turned of even more voters. The majority of people who voted in the non-binding poll said no to both questions, however the Christie administration still legalised web shops.
Mr Knowles stated that this action, paired with the government’s snubbing of groups opposing the gender equality referendum, gives the impression that the government “is all or nothing in its approach” to secure a yes vote.
“Nothing is wrong with the (yes) message, but when I turn on the television all I see is yes. But then we have other respected people presenting a side that could hold water but we can’t hear enough of it because the government is only presenting one side.”
He added: “You listen to Dame Joan Sawyer, she is saying one thing, and then you have another justice saying something that is completely different – who do I trust in this situation? Do I believe this learned attorney or do I trust another? So it makes you question if the government is presenting a balanced message or just pushing the side they want you to support.”
Mr Knowles said the government should have taken a hands off approach and allowed the public to decide which side it supported.
On Thursday he said he is even more disappointed that the current PLP regime was attempting to strong-arm the voting public into voting yes.
Dame Joan, former president of the Court of Appeal, has said the upcoming referendum is a “waste of time” adding that if she votes, she will likely vote no to the four questions.
Last week, former Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett, who supports the referendum, suggested that an apology from the PLP might sway voters who are bitter about the party’s actions in 2002.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis said he had no reason to apologise for voting against the 2002 constitutional referendum, saying former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham inspired the results when he “politicised” the vote.