Grenada’s Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, didn’t mince words when he met with key party supporters in the Greater Toronto Area last Sunday to wrap up a weekend tour of Canada that also included Montreal.
The 67-year-old Howard University graduate expressed disappointment with the poor attendance at a town hall meeting the previous evening and the consular office operations.
This was Mitchell’s second official visit to Canada since leading the New National Party (NNP) to a clean sweep in the February 2013 general elections.
Just about 125 people attended the town hall meeting at Toronto City Hall.
“Speaking in Toronto at public meetings while in opposition or in government, I have to say to you that that was the poorest turnout,” said Mitchell. “I can’t tell you I know all the reasons for it. We are talking about a popular government in Grenada, so it can’t be just politics. It has to be more than that.”
Accompanied by Deputy PM Elvin Nimrod, Health & Social Security Minister Dr. Clarice Modeste and new party recruit Peter David, Mitchell addressed town hall meetings in Brooklyn and Montreal prior to coming to Toronto.
“Our stop in New York was a massive success,” he said. “There were five major Grenadian functions competing for our nationals’ interest, yet we had almost 600 people at the town hall. The mood and the tenor was something I have never seen in all my political engagements there. The size of the turnout in Montreal was the same as that in Toronto where there are much more nationals residing in this city. Clearly, what you had here was not good at all. Not having a vibrant organized group in the community could have been part of the reason for the poor turnout. As I said, we don’t know all the reasons.”
Jenny Gumbs abruptly stepped down as honorary consul general last November after serving in the position for eight years and Patricia Clarke, the alternate representative to the Organization of American States and counsellor based in Washington, acted until C.J. Augustine was recently appointed as Gumbs’ replacement.
Augustine is the daughter of the province’s fairness commissioner, Jean Augustine, who is Mitchell’s cousin.
“The government has to do some serious work with the consulate,” said Mitchell. “We know there were problems before and there are still problems now. If you know me and you know the government, we will do what we have to do to make sure those situations are dealt with and ironed out in the interest of the country. When I make decisions in government, it’s not about personalities but what is best for the country.
“We will see to it that the office becomes more of one for the people and the community. This is what it’s meant for. The taxpayers can’t be spending money on an office that’s aloof and outside of the mainstream of the community. If that’s the case, it should be closed down because a lot of money is spent to keep one person abroad in an embassy.”
Mitchell has cut the foreign service budget in half from $13 million to $6 million.
“I couldn’t support what the former government was doing having a massive set of people abroad calling themselves ambassadors and counsellors,” said Mitchell, who has promised further reductions. “Their salaries are almost four to five times more than what a government minister is being paid. They are drawing that money and doing nothing but just attending cocktail parties and enjoying themselves while people back home can’t buy medication. My conscience can’t support that.”
The St. George North West representative since 1984, Mitchell led his party to a landslide victory at the last polls. The NNP returned to power unseating the National Democratic Congress (NDC) party which secured 11 of the 15 seats in the July 2008 elections.
While relishing the huge support, Mitchell said his party will not take the people’s vote for granted.
“Even though our election victory was resounding, we can easily take that to mean that we are invincible,” he said. “I have told the younger members that the same people that are jumping up for them today will be jumping against them if they don’t do as they say. That message has to be clear. That’s why the party’s strength and work have to be extremely important. If you are not serving the people well and they make it clear you should not continue, the party will replace you as a candidate for the next election. In 1999 when we won all the seats, we had clear evidence that a number of our parliamentarians took things for granted. They didn’t listen, we didn’t change them and in the process we paid a heavy price at the polls. I have promised that I will not make the same mistake again. We are temporary guardians of the people’s assets.”
Mitchell welcomed former Grenada foreign minister and NDC general secretary Peter David to his party’s fold. Expelled from the NDC five months after resigning as Minister of Tourism, Civil Aviation & Culture in April 2012, David was last month formally endorsed as an NNP member.
“At a time when we are preaching unity and forgiveness, we will not turn anyone away who wants to join our party and help us build,” said Mitchell, who also graduated from the University of the West Indies. “Clearly, Peter had tremendous influence with the NDC. He was the party’s most popular person and they were foolish to throw him out. We will be foolish not to use his support effectively in building the country. I think Peter has done an excellent job in explaining why he has chosen to come to our party.”
Facing financial hardships like most Caribbean countries, Grenada has turned to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance.
Mitchell said a significant portion of the US$300 million promised under the structural adjustment program will be invested in small business development.
“We firmly believe that you have to make people less dependent on government because the historical context in which we grew up was that if you voted for me, you would be rewarded with a job,” he said. “Those days are gone. The public service is already bloated, so there is nothing there. So you have to vote for me so that I could create the opportunity to empower you to help yourself.”