Wednesday 25 November, 2020

Election Watch: Another newcomer has Montague on edge in West St Mary?

Robert Montague (left) and Dr Jason Stanford.

Robert Montague (left) and Dr Jason Stanford.

In another clear indication that general elections are brewing, Member of Parliament (MP) for West St Mary and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Chairman, Robert Montague, has sought to highlight his achievements and plans in the pipeline for the constituency.

This comes in the wake of assertions being peddled on social media platform, Facebook, by People's National Party (PNP) supporters that a leaked internal JLP poll has pointed to the Opposition's candidate in the constituency for the upcoming elections, Dr Jason Stanford, as presently leading Montague in popular support in the seat. 

The constituency has five electoral divisions: Carron Hall, Gayle, Oracabessa, Retreat and Boscobel. PNP social media bloggers have claimed that Montague is in trouble in the Gayle and Carron Hall divisions, as the so-called ‘leaked poll’ suggests their candidate is gaining ground in those areas.

The JLP hierarchy, however, has so far not responded to those rumours and reports being shared extensively by their Opposition counterparts who are gearing up for general elections, constitutionally due in February 2021. 

Despite that constitutional deadline, a number of talk show hosts and political commentators have asserted that the general elections will likely be held this summer, specifically at the end of August. 

However, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, at a recent function in Annotto Bay, St Mary, claimed that elections were not on his mind just now, but rather, the country's economic recovery. The island's economy has been left significantly challenged by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. 

Minister Andrew Holness (centre), along with Minister of Transport and Mining and Western St Mary Member of Parliament (MP), Robert Montague (right), cut the ribbon to officially open the Gayle Police Station and Multi-Purpose Centre in St Mary on Friday, July 10. Looking on is Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of Area Two, Elbert Nelson.

But clear signs of at least a mild 'general election fever' was on show at the opening of the Gayle Police Station and Multi-Purpose Centre in the Western St Mary town of Gayle on Friday.  The symbolic 'fever' began emerging when Montague asked Holness, who headed the official party on hand, not to call general elections until he announces the start date for the fixing of the Guy's Hill to Gayle main road.

Residents and motorists have long lamented the poor state of that particular roadway, despite patching exercises being undertaken in sections. 

Montague explained at the ceremony that instead of having the prime minister and other officials take a helicopter ride or travel by the Northern Coastal Highway, he insisted that they travelled via the Devil Race Course Road in St Catherine, and then on to the Guy's Hill to Gayle route. This, he said, was necessary for them to experience the poor state of the roadway.

Montague elaborated that "I campaigned (in the 2016 General Elections) that I would fix the Guys Hill to Gayle road. Prime Minister, it is in your hands to name a certain date, but before you do that, I want you to name the start date when that road is going to be fixed."

He repeated a phrase that was recently used by Holness, that one good term in Government deserves another, and indicated that he needed to reclaim the seat whenever the next polls are called.

Additionally, Montague noted that the Western St Mary constituency has not been won by the party that loses a general election since 1967.

"I always tell you (Holness) that Western St Mary never sits in Opposition. Anywhere Western St Mary goes, that's where the Government goes. So let mi win nuh Brogad... because one good term deserves another, and you are doing well and we want you to continue not only for the next term, but the next and the next," pleaded Montague in a lighthearted but very noticeable manner.

So was this plea from the St Mary-born politician any indication that he is really facing serious competition from the constituency caretaker, Dr Jason Stanford of the PNP? 

While the facts regarding any momentum being gained in the seat by the PNP candidate have not been established, it is factual that the West St Mary constituency has been won by the party that has gone on to be victorious at the national polls since 1967.

In Montague's case, he swept to victory in West St Mary in the 2007 General Elections, securing 9,022 votes to PNP standard bearer, Delano Franklyn's 8,255. The JLP went on to win the national polls, claiming 32 seats to the incumbent PNP's 28 seats. 

Montague, by that time, was no stranger to politics, as he became Councillor for Carron Hall Division in West St Mary in 1990.  Interestingly, Carron Hall has been a JLP fortress over the years.

At the local government level, Montague has served as Mayor of Port Maria and Chairman of the St Mary Parish Council (now Municipal Corporation) between 2003 and 2007.

Under the Bruce Golding-led Administration, Montague ascended to the roles of Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Local Government, and later Minister of Agriculture.

But during his first tenure as West St Mary MP, constituents complained bitterly that Montague had abandoned the area, and their issues in the constituency were not being dealt with effectively.

Despite those concerns, political commentators still gave the veteran JLP politician the edge over newcomer to representational politics, Joylan Silvera, heading into the General Elections of December 2011.

But Silvera created history when he handed Montague his first defeat after just one term in the House of Representatives. Silvera bagged 9,695 votes to Montague’s 9,466 in an obviously close contest.

By virtue of the notion that any political party which wins West St Mary forms the Government, the PNP stayed true to that historical fact (since 1967) and won the general elections.

Joylan Silvera

But the PNP newbie, Silvera, did not capitalise on his trouncing of Montague, as constituents of West St Mary described later also described their first-time parliamentarian as a ‘missing MP’.

The man affectionately known as 'Bobby', used this to his advantage, and regained the love of the people of the rural constituency in 2016.

At the end of the counting of the ballots in the February 2016 General Elections, Montague gained revenge when he trounced Silvera by a whopping margin of 3,543 votes. The incumbent, Silvera, only managed to gain 8,120 votes to Montague’s decisive 11,663.

With Montague winning West St Mary on election night, it clearly meant that the JLP would form the next Government, and so it did, defeating the Portia Simpson Miller-led PNP by one seat in the island’s closet ever general elections.

Montague has again featured in the Government, now led by Andrew Holness, as a full-time Cabinet Minister; first as Minister of National Security and presently Minister of Transport and Mining.

But with rumours again surfacing of many residents not being happy with Montague’s performance in the constituency, and unconfirmed reports that his PNP competitor is gaining significant traction, Montague, and by extension, the JLP, must be canvassing and campaigning heavily in the constituency.

Robert Montague

It was therefore no surprise that during his address at the opening of the Gayle centre, that Montague listed in detail, his achievements and plans for the West St Mary constituency he hopes not to lose to another political neophyte, as he did in 2011.

In his typical political style, Montague told the audience at the ceremony that “This Government led by Andrew Holness is undergoing a lot of projects, so much that we forget some. So before I sit down, I want to remind of some of the projects being undertaken by the Government.”  

Added Montague: “We are doing the $55 million project in Arcadia (Housing Scheme in Gayle)… under the Housing Scheme Upgrade Programme for the older housing schemes. Arcadia will benefit from that to do road improvement (and) drainage.”

In terms of his plans geared towards the distribution of water in the constituency, Montague said: “We (the Government) are doing seven rain water harvesting systems in our primary schools. There is going to be a water upgrade in (the community of) New Works at the Wild Spring facility, and in Montreal with a brand new solar system so that the people in Carron Hall and Montreal will now have piped water.”

In terms of infrastructural development, Montague said “We just got approval from tourism for the money to complete (a) community centre in Labyrinth that will also house the post office and the clinic.”

Turning his attention to the PNP stronghold of Stewart Town in the Boscobel Division, the parliamentarian said significant work is being done in the area, despite the community’s known political affiliation. 

Montague elaborated that “We have upgraded a sports field in Stewart Town and fixed every lane and corner in the community of Stewart Town. And it is important that we note that, because Stewart Town, the prime minister knows, is not favourable to my party (the JLP), but my prime minister is about development of Jamaica and Jamaicans, and it doesn’t matter how you vote but as long as you’re a Jamaican, we going to take prosperity right across to your doorstep.”

With respect to housing development, Montague said “The prime minister has approved funding for a brand new 300-unit housing scheme in Galina. He has also devoted some $24 million for the mini-stadium in Oracabessa that has been sitting down there for a very long time.”

Montague said his tenure as a parliamentarian has also been focused on improving the “playfields right across Western St Mary, because we believe the next Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is in Western St Mary, and the next Usain Bolt.”

He added that “We just need to give them the facilities. We have brought light on our playfields. The playfield now in Wood Park now has light, so the youngsters can play at nights. The playfield in Bonny Gate has light, the playfield in Bamboo has light, (and) the playfield in Elgin Town soon get light. We have just upgraded the playfield in Jeffrey Town, and it will soon get light. The playfield in Crescent has just been upgraded.”

In turning his attention to Gayle, the veteran politician said it “is the fastest growing town in St Mary, and it is also the feeding ground for employees in the tourism sector on the north coast. But the town of Gayle is being chocked because the development lands are not there.”

To address that situation, Montague said his intention is to have a bypass road constructed for the town of Gayle, a planned move that is geared at easing congestion and fostering greater overall development.

Additionally, Montague said it is his intention to have a new housing scheme built in Gayle, to address the need for housing for the growing population. 

He told members of the audience that he was grateful to have lived to see the completion of the Gayle Multi-Purpose Centre, as it has been in the pipelines since 2011, but his party lost the elections at the time before any construction could have gotten under way.

Following the official opening ceremony for the facility, Prime Minister Andrew Holness took to a playfield in the West St Mary constituency to participate in a cricket match with youngsters. He showcased his cricketing skills while Montague played the role of an umpire. A video of the event has gone viral on social media.

 

The prime minister will, no doubt, be hopeful of living true to the predictions of commentators who have generally voiced the opinion that his party will decimate the PNP at the next national polls.

But amid the fanfare with the planned visit of the prime minister and Montague to Gayle and other sections of the constituency on Friday, the PNP caretaker for the seat, Dr Jason Stanford, took to his Facebook page a day prior, and seemingly acknowledged the imminent presence of his political rivals there.

He posted: “JUST A REMINDER TO THE UNBELIEVERS REALLY? NOW IT TAKES THE PM and the JLP Chairman to defend Western St Mary against the ‘Little Man’?”

Below that post, Stanford reposted a February 18 post that he made, claiming that he was making headway in the constituency.

The post said: “Who leaked the preliminary data of their poll? Trouble in Carron Hall Division for them.... Trouble in Gayle Division for them..... Oracabessa holding Strong!!!!  AND READY Help arrived in Oracabessa, I hear the PM and others coming soon..... In the meantime, let me walk the back roads and visit those politically forgotten and abandoned communities.”

Screenshots of that post have been widely shared by PNP-affiliated bloggers who have all been fiercely claiming that their candidate will win the seat whenever Holness announces a date for the national polls.

But who really is Dr Jason Stanford?

In a flyer obtained by Loop News from his Facebook page, Stanford described himself as a “son of the soil, born and raised in the parish of St Mary. Professionally, I am a clinician, educator, scientist and most importantly, a patriotic servant.”

Information reaching Loop News suggests that Stanford resides in the constituency.

In providing more details about his background on the flyer, Stanford said he “served successfully at the highest level internationally and locally”.

Dr Jason Stanford

He elaborated with: “most recently I served as an executive and Associate Professor of Medicine at Geisinger Medical Center and Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. During this tenure, my leadership skills resulted in appointment as System Director and Chairperson for the division of Physics and Dosimetry across a network of 14 hospitals. I intend to use my experience from working internationally and locally to develop the constituency of Western St Mary.”

According to his vision for the constituency, Stanford said he intends to make it “the place of choice to live, work and raise a family. Together with my team of councilor/candidates, we will restore hope and opportunity to the constituents. Solid leadership built on collaboration and consultation with the residents, business community and Diaspora will be a priority.”

Among his development plans for West St Mary, the political neophyte said he will be focused on areas including infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, skills training and jobs, as well as sports and entertainment.

In a Facebook post on Friday, Stanford shared lines from a famous quote clearly aimed at his competitors.

“The heights by GREAT MEN reached and kept, were not attained by SUDDEN FLIGHT, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.”

The West St Mary PNP contender’s post further, saying: “Better days are coming… The future of Western St Mary will be in good hands with Dr Stanford.”

His social media content has widely showed him visiting constituents and highlighting his various plans for them if he should create a political upset and defeat his experienced political rival.

But word on the ground is that while some residents of the constituency have recognised that Stanford is a good candidate, they believe he will have a hard time trying to unseat Montague.

Of note, the PNP failed to win any of the five divisions in West St Mary in the Local Government Elections of 2016. The JLP claimed all five divisions; Jason James – Gayle; Krystal Lee – Retreat; Sheldon Kidd – Oracabessa; Doreen Hutchinson – Carron Hall; and Leroy Sewell – Boscobel.

Other residents have claimed, however, that there are issues within the constituency, including road, unemployment and water that are being neglected by the sitting parliamentary representative. Failure to address these key issues would improve the chances of Stanford, just like his predecessor, Joylan Silvera, creating history in the seat and defeating the JLP Chairman, Montague.

Whichever candidate wins on the night of the general elections, could have the satisfaction of their party forming the next government.

Since independence, the only time the seat went to an Opposition member was in 1962 when the PNP's Stuart Charles won the seat over the JLP's Talbot Forrest by 297 votes. The JLP, however, won the elections.

When the JLP won the 1967 General Elections, Forrest won the West St Mary seat by defeating the PNP's Holroyd Thompson by 125.

But when the Michael Manley-led PNP defeated the Hugh Shearer-JLP in the 1972 General Elections, the victorious party won the seat through its candidate Anthony Capleton. The incumbent, Forrest of the JLP, lost the seat by 714 votes.

The tradition of West St Mary being in the wining column of the party forming the Government continued throughout the years: in 1976, the PNP's AGR Byfield defeated the JLP's Barry Wahrman – the PNP won the general elections; in 1980, the JLP's Talbot Forrest beat the PNP's Vincent Edward – the JLP won the general elections; and in 1983, the JLP's Hyacinth Knight over independent John Farrell – the JLP won the general elections.

The PNP’s Terry Gillette defeated the JLP’s Hyacinth Knight in the seat in three consecutive general elections in 1989, 1993 and 1997, to claim West St Mary. His party won all three general elections.

When Gillette retired, the new PNP candidate, Dr Neil McGill, trounced the JLP's Sutcliff Haughton-James at the 2002 polls. The PJ Patterson-led PNP won the general elections, cementing Edward Seaga’s ultimate retirement from politics without having another chance at leading the JLP to victory.  

After 18 years in the political wilderness, the JLP won the seat in the 2007 General Elections, with Robert ‘Bobby’ Montague defeating Delano Franklyn by 767 votes. The JLP would also leave the political wilderness for the first time in 18 years when they formed the Government.

But alas, the JLP members were regulated to the Opposition benches after the 2011 General Elections. However, West St Mary remained on the Government benches thanks to Joylan Silvera defeating Montague.

The Portia Simpson-Miller led PNP went on to lose the 2016 General Elections by one seat to the Andrew Holness-led JLP. West St Mary’s ticket on the winning side remained intact, as Robert Montague reclaimed the seat he lost to Silvera in 2011.

What will be the outcome of the next general elections in Western St Mary and the wider Jamaica, either in 2020 or 2021? Time will tell, at both the constituency and national levels.

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