Outgoing Premier Alden McLaughlin who is defending his Red Bay seat and his government’s track record, traded policy ideas with his constituency challenger Sammy Jackson when they met in the Chamber of Commerce’s Candidates Forum on Monday evening.
Mr McLaughlin, who is completing his constitutional two consecutive terms as Premier, has also stepped down from leadership of the Progressives party. But he has said he is available for a ministerial role if he retains the seat and his party stays in government.
While national issues dominated the two-hour session, matters specific to Red Bay were also in focus with Mr Jackson leading off by committing to address the persistent traffic problems, flooding and concerns about crime.
Mr McLaughlin responded by disclosing that the government has been working on a plan for a six-lane highway serving the area, adding that just on Monday a contract had been signed for local access roads and drainage improvement as a key component of that project.
The impact of the pandemic, from the plans for reopening to how the economy will be structured going forward also featured prominently.
Premier McLaughlin said, “I suspect that it will take us into May or June before we have 75 to 80% of the population here vaccinated, which will then allow us to reopen up our borders relatively safely.”
He said the economy was “doing well” but accepted that the tourism industry was struggling while listing infrastructure, the environment and climate change among key areas for the next government.
While commending the government for its handling of the pandemic, Mr Jackson said it had overlooked the cost of living.
“I think that is certainly the top national issue that needs to be addressed by the new government, whoever that may be. And that needs to be vigorously addressed because there are folks who are falling through the cracks.”
Both stressed the importance of defending financial services as an even more important economic pillar now, through negotiation and legislative compliance in the face of continuing harsh scrutiny by the EU and others.
Regarding economic diversification, Mr McLaughlin pointed to medical tourism being pursued under his leadership and the development of the tech sector as examples with stay-over tourism now being prioritised now over cruise visits.
Mr Jackson however questioned financial services firms being registered in Cayman but basing their staff overseas depriving the jurisdiction of work permit fees.
He also challenged Mr McLaughlin on his benefits to the citizens particularly from concessions granted to developers, claiming that there are “far too many projects approved in the last four to eight years, where we didn't really get what we were statutorily promised.”
That dovetailed into an exchange about population and development with stridently opposed views.
Mr Jackson: “We've already seen what has happened as a result of land banking in Cayman and investment in real estate. We are not building for Caymanians any more...We simply need to stop, get a handle on development and curtail population growth because we're already reaching our capacity in terms of infrastructure. We know that there's going to be irreversible economic harm.”
But Premier McLaughlin countered: “I sit here and I listened to my colleague and I shake my head. It is amazing how history can be revised,” he said referring to appeals from the Chamber and Commerce and others in the private sector to stimulate the economy when his government took office in 2013.
“When we took office in 2013 the economy was in the doldrums, employment was at 10 and a half per cent, every association involved in business was clamouring for us to do something to get the economy moving…that's the reason why we gave concessions at the time for development.”
Providing opportunities for young people, education and employment garnered much attention during the discourse with the model of the education system coming in for close examination.
On the question of civil partnership, Premier McLaughlin who had piloted the original ill-fated Domestic Partnership Bill declared:
"I believe that person is entitled to their right to sexual orientation in their private life. It's not for me to sit in judgement about those things."
Mr Jackson summed it up by calling the issue a fait accompli.
Views diverged on having a constitutional amendment to recall MPs, and both were lukewarm to the idea of a national lottery.