Newsmaker of the Year
Two years and eight months after Dr Maria Agard took the oath of office before Governor-General Sir Elliott Belgrave as the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) MP for Christ Church West, she was kicked out of the party by the Mia Mottley-led National Council. It was easily the biggest news story of 2015 and made her the people’s choice as newsmaker of the year.
For several weeks prior to that fateful November 22 night at BLP Headquarters on Roebuck Street when Dr Agard was expelled, the writing was on the wall. Ten days earlier, the National Council, in exercising its powers under Rule 81 of the Constitution of the BLP, passed a resolution that she should be charged for breaches of discipline under Rule 82 of the Constitution. Nine charges were laid against the Christ Church West parliamentarian.
The party’s reasoning behind the decision to expel a woman who has held a variety of senior executive posts including president of the Christ Church West constituency branch and Assistant General Secretary, was provided in the following statement issued by Mottley the night the council made the decision in Dr Agard’s absence.
“The National Council of the BLP, after hearing the charges presented and the statements from Dr Maria Agard and her attorneys-at-law, has determined that she should be expelled from the party as provided for by the Constitution. These charges, contrary to those who would seek to trivialize them, are fundamental. At the very heart of it, they go to the respect for the authority of organs of the Party, that are critical to its functioning as a mass-based political organization – in other words, the failure of Dr Agard to recognize the legitimacy of a democratically elected branch of this party – her own branch.
“They speak to the failure of Dr Agard to be guided by the Party’s Council – not to further speak to the media on this matter, so as to allow for reconciliation between herself and her branch. They also speak to her inappropriate conduct, whether in misconstruing the facts in the media or offensive profanities posted on social media. And finally, they speak to the failure of Dr Agard to be a team player – and to play her part by attendance at the annual conference and a series of nominations in the very parish where she is the only sitting Member of Parliament for the party.
“This has not been an issue of freedom of speech or the ability to manage diverse opinions. This is fundamentally an issue of discipline and respect for authority and willingness to work together in an organization with other people,” the statement explained.
If Dr Agard – and her relationship with the party and Mottley in particular – were the talk of the town before the expulsion, afterwards she and her lawyer Hal Gollop, QC, became two of the most-sought-after people around. Speculation was rife as to whether she would take legal action against the party, if she would cross the floor to join the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), where she would sit in Parliament or even if she would join former BLP leader and ex-Prime Minister Owen Arthur to form a third party. Two of these questions would soon be answered.
Two days after she was kicked out of the party, Dr Agard took up her seat in the House of Assembly at the end of the opposition benches. Before walking up the steps of Parliament, she told reporters that she remained committed to the ideals of the BLP amid reports that she could be mounting a legal challenge to her expulsion. Except for a few other brief comments and a promise to “tell all” at a planned news conference, she opted to remain silent in the meantime about the other questions related to her political future and kept everyone guessing.
But while the country waited for the planned news conference, the now Independent MP was receiving strong support from some of her parliamentary colleagues, including Arthur, in her fight for justice. St Andrew MP George Payne who strongly believed Dr Agard would fly the BLP’s banner in the 2018 general election, publicly advised her to challenge the process of her expulsion. Arthur, however, was even more strident in his comments.
Arthur, who now sits as an Independent MP after resigning from the BLP more than a year ago, described Dr Agard’s expulsion as a national tragedy. He tore into Mottley, denouncing her as someone determined to use the Barbados Labour Party as her plaything and saying that this must not be entertained by right-thinking Barbadians.
The rumour mill continued to turn, meanwhile, regarding the Christ Church West MP’s future and what action she would take – if any – against the party to which she said she remained committed. The moment would finally arrive on December 2 when Dr Agard would break her silence at the press conference held at her Strathclyde, St Michael dental clinic. She came out swinging, reserving her most stinging comments for Mottley, who she accused of using bullying tactics. Dr Agard described Mottley’s leadership as tyrannical and autocratic, saying the root of her troubles lay in the fact that she dared to challenge the BLP leader.
In the same breath, Dr Agard told reporters that the nine “frivolous” charges laid against her by the National Council did not represent the real reason behind her expulsion. “I have been expelled from the Barbados Labour Party, not on account of the nine frivolous charges laid against me, or any of the spurious notions which have been fed to the public by those who aspire to shape public opinion with their falsified information,” she declared.
Dr Agard contended that the charge of poor representation was never formally laid against her, nor did it form part of the nine allegations, “though poor representation was the precipitating offence for which I was condemned.” She added: “I was expelled from the party because I dared to be different, I dared to speak out against a grave injustice that had been done to the members of the Christ Church West branch when their cast votes were declared null and void, I dared to speak out against the unconstitutional, the unauthorized and bullying tactics of a political leader who is not accustomed to being told that she is wrong, even when she contemptuously violates the very constitution she espouses to uphold.”
Dr Agard also announced at the news conference that she would sue the BLP for expelling her. The case, which has since been filed in the High Court, was adjourned until April 7 next year when the parties first appeared before Justice Olson Alleyne on December 23. Ever since the suit was lodged, both BLP General Secretary Dr Jerome Walcott and attorney-at-law Roger Forde, QC, who is representing the BLP in the case, did not seem in any hurry to respond.
Days after receiving a letter from Dr Agard’s lawyer giving the party seven days to reinstate her or be taken to court, Dr Walcott said he still had not read the correspondence. Forde also did not get around to fully perusing a writ served on his clients, which he said they received “late”. Up to the time of appearing in court, he had not filed an affidavit in response to the claimant’s submissions, pointing to time constraints as the reason.
The former BLP Christ Church West parliamentarian is claiming an undisclosed sum of money in damages. She is also asking the court to make six other declarations, including ruling that the National Council’s decision to expel her was unlawful, void and of no effect. Meanwhile, the wait continues for at least another four months. Until the court delivers a ruling on the matter, Dr Agard, our newsmaker for 2015, will continue to be in the national spotlight.