Errol McLeod, a long-time trade unionist and minister in the current Trinidad & Tobago government, wants to see the governing coalition stay together in the interest of the country.
At a breakfast meeting in Toronto on the weekend, McLeod called on his hosts, the local arm of the United National Congress (UNC), the senior partner in the coalition, to reject the notion that any one of the parties can go it alone.
McLeod, Minister of Labour and Small and Macro Enterprise Development, said he vividly recalls opposition parties in the past bowing to defeat following every election that the People’s National Movement (PNM) party won in Trinidad & Tobago.
Founded by the late Dr. Eric Williams, the PNM held sway for three decades before losing to the National Alliance for Reconstruction in 1986.
The PNM returned to power for four years in the 1990s and won outright victories in 2002 and 2007 before losing to the coalition People’s Partnership in last year’s elections.
“No one political grouping in Trinidad & Tobago, outside the PNM, seemed able to capture the imagination of the electorate in a manner that would give it a sufficiently good place in the elected arena,” he said. “When the dust settled, the PNM was always back in power and the opposition would end up quarrelling with each other rather than combining in a manner that would give us a better footing in the course of the politics of Trinidad & Tobago.”
That changed last year when the UNC, led by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, T & T’s first female Prime Minister, the Congress of The People, the Tobago Organization of the People, labour unions and non-governmental organizations – the National Joint Action Committee and the Movement for Social Justice – of which McLeod is a member, joined forces to topple the PNM and capture 29 of the 41 seats.
“We went into government with the clear understanding that this is a relationship that we must build in the interest of Trinidad & Tobago,” said the former head of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union and member of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mines and General Workers’ Union. “At this time, I cannot see any one of the five entities in the relationship going out on their own and capturing a majority of the seats to form a government on the basis of a single party hegemony. In the interest of the people, the relationship must be built and carried forward.”
McLeod, who founded the Committee for Labour Solidarity in T & T, encouraged the UNC’s Canadian arm to consider joining forces with other local organizations affiliated with the coalition.
“You will, no doubt, want to hold on to your independent position as UNC, but in the broader picture and in the interest of Trinidad & Tobago and, by extension, the Caribbean, you might want to configure your operations to reflect representation for the whole rather than serious identification of the party only and an abandonment of the whole,” he said.
While in Canada, McLeod visited Ontario farms where more than 1,000 T & T nationals are employed, and Alberta where he met with representatives of the provincial government and the Alberta Federation of Labour, and business owners.
“I was there to pursue job opportunities in the oil and gas sectors back home,” he said. “There are openings in Trinidad & Tobago for thousands of skilled workers such as welders, electricians, auto mechanics and crane operators.”
In a brief interview after the breakfast meeting, the Member of Parliament for Pointe-A-Pierre said he supported the recent state of emergency because criminal activity was substantially suppressed during the two months and 17 days it was in effect.
He, however, did not give police commissioner, Dwayne Gibbs, a former Edmonton police superintendent, a ringing endorsement.
“I think the commissioner of police, given the circumstances that affect the functions of the position at this time, has been trying,” said McLeod. “However, I am sure I speak for the majority when I say that we are not as satisfied as we would have liked to be.”