Councillor was sidelined by PNP colleagues in KSAMC

Observer reporters

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

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Councillor Kari Douglas's decision to switch allegiance from the People's National Party (PNP) to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has its foundation in frustration she felt at being sidelined by her former Comrades in the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC), the Jamaica Observer learnt last night.

According to a source with knowledge of the development, Douglas, a second-term councillor who represents the Trafalgar Division, was pulled from all the committees on which she served.

“It's almost as if she was isolated,” said the source, who revealed that Douglas had been talking to Juliet Holness, the JLP Member of Parliament for St Andrew East Rural and wife of Prime Minister Andrew Holness, since last summer.

According to the source, Douglas had actually wanted to leave the KSAMC and focus on real estate due to the actions of the PNP councillors. In fact, the source revealed that her late father Easton, a longstanding member of the PNP who served the party at the executive level and was a member of the Cabinet, had known of her intention to leave.

However, she had a rethink after speaking with Juliet Holness and Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams who assured her that she would be embraced by the JLP, which holds the majority in the KSAMC.

“There was a lot going on between her and the PNP caucus, even before the [PNP] leadership race,” said the source.

Douglas had supported Peter Bunting's leadership challenge to PNP President Dr Peter Phillips last year, which split the party into two camps — Phillips's OnePNP team and Bunting's Rise United group. The bitter contest ended with Phillips retaining his presidency by a mere 76 votes at the party's 81st annual conference last September.

Since then, divisions have been simmering in the party, and last November she scolded members of the PNP hierarchy for issuing a statement that the Opposition party was conducting an inquiry into an incident between her and a doctor at Bustamante Hospital for Children.

Douglas got into a verbal clash with the doctor after she had taken her eight-month-old son to the hospital because he had a high fever. She said that the incident was not initiated by her as she had “initially exercised patience but was provoked by insensitivity and a lack of compassion”.

She apologised for her role in the confrontation with the doctor but took issue with the party saying that it was conducting the inquiry “with a view to determining an appropriate course of action”.

“The statement from the PNP is curious, given that there are way more serious incidents involving party members which the party has not probed or chosen to issue a statement regarding,” Douglas said at the time. She added that she was “not surprised by the statement from the PNP leadership, especially given that some senior members of what was the OnePNP campaign team actively agitated for publication of the initial story about the incident which contained several falsehoods”.

At last Thursday's Finance Committee meeting of the KSAMC the Observer had noticed that Douglas sat with the JLP caucus and not in her usual seat among PNP councillors, apparently signalling her intention to cross the floor.

Yesterday, after she informed Mayor Williams during the KSAMC council meeting that she was no longer a PNP councillor and moved from her customary seat beside Councillor Patrick Roberts (PNP, Molynes Division) to sit with the JLP caucus, the council took on an atmosphere of a political campaign meeting, as the Labourites boisterously welcomed Douglas and sang party songs.

In a statement issued to the media, Douglas said that she was deeply concerned that the PNP had become a political organisation “which is primarily focused on winning elections at any cost, as opposed to pursuing an unswerving commitment to national development and in that process listening to the people and creating policies to meet their needs”.

She said that the PNP had also, for some time, “not been a space where creative ideas, especially the thoughts of young people, are encouraged and treated seriously. I have decided that enough is enough”.

Douglas said that switching political allegiance was not easy.

“Honesty dictates that I concede that given the tribal nature of our politics, my political antecedent and the likelihood that some individuals in my former political party may seek to be vindictive following this announcement making this transition across the political aisle was not an easy decision,” Douglas said.

She said that Prime Minister Holness had brought a refreshing approach to politics and was “steering the reigns of Government in a manner which puts the interest of the people first, and also is not afraid to hold accountable public officials who step out of line”.

“I am one of the many who have had to decisively rethink past political ideologies and affiliation. Today, I am happy to announce that I have made a decision in the interest of my country,” she said.

After Douglas indicated her intention to cross the floor, Mayor Williams welcomed her to the JLP side of the council. He said that her switch came as a surprise, even as he admitted that he had heard the rumour.

“It could not have been easy. You must have agonised,” he said.

Juliet Holness, who was at the council meeting, welcomed Douglas to the JLP family.

Meanwhile Councillor Andrew Swaby (Vineyard Town Division), the PNP minority leader of the council, told the Observer that Douglas's switch was no surprise. “We want to wish her well,” he said, adding that the PNP had identified a candidate to run for the Trafalgar Division as Douglas had not applied to contest that seat again. “We have every intention of retaining the seat for the PNP,” he said, echoing a statement from PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson, who also said the party “is already well advanced in confirming its new candidate for the Trafalgar Division and is committed to retaining the seat in the next local government elections”.

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