Mézec Resigns As Minister To Back Vote Of No Confidence

Senator Sam Mézec has resigned as Children and Housing Minister as he and other members of Reform Jersey prepare to support the vote of no confidence motion against the Chief Minister.

Deputy Montfort Tadier has also resigned as Assistant Economic Development Minister ahead of tomorrow's crunch vote.

Reform Jersey reached an agreement with Senator John Le Fondré after the 2018 election to support him in becoming Chief Minister.

Two and a half years later, the party is due to vote to remove him from that role.

"I think it was the right thing to be transparent about that arrangement at the start, because it means now, two and a bit years on, we can reflect on that and see how we lived up to what was in that agreement and whether we have served the public.

"I think it's the case that as well as this scandal we've faced over the last two weeks, I think the government's commitment to reducing income inequality, which was a core part of our Common Strategic Policy and a core part of Reform Jersey's agreement with the Chief Minister, but that pledge is in tatters.

"Myself and my Reform Jersey colleagues have pushed as hard as we can on things like raising the Minimum Wage, on things like progressive tax reform, and I think that when eventually the stats are produced, I think we'll probably find that we've gone backwards in terms of income inequality over the last few years.

"That's a scandal in it's own right and something has got to change." - Senator Sam Mézec

The Charlie Parker 'second role' saga

Senator Mézec says the fault lies with the Chief Minister because he exercised 'bad judgment' in verbally approving the States CEO's second role - and then allowed the States Employment Board to give permission retrospectively without consulting the government.

In a crisis meeting of the Council of Ministers on Sunday 1 November, Ministers said Mr. Parker shouldn't hold the role with NewRiver.

Senator Mézec says another meeting was held on Thursday 5 November to repeat that message - but as of yet, 'there are no signs that this view will be respected'.

Speaking to Channel 103, the now-former Minister says it's been handled really badly, to the point where he can't find in his conscience a justification for not supporting a Vote of No Confidence for how the Chief Minister has handled it.

"I think if I were to try to keep my job and justify voting against that motion, I think it would be endorsing the wrong thing and behaviour I don't think has been acceptable throughout this scandal."

Statements from the States Employment Board and the Chief Minister were released to the media last Friday (6 November), saying that the SEB will write confidentially to Mr. Parker 'stating its position'.

Senator Mézec says the SEB's statement 'basically said nothing' and that nothing has happened since Ministers made their views clear a week ago.

"I find myself asking the question - 'who is in charge of the island?' when the elected government is clear about its ambitions and desires and nothing happens as a result of that.

"I think that's appalling and I think the public will be appalled as well at the idea that the elected politicians may not really be in charge here.

"He (the Chief Minister) should have taken a moment to think about it (the States CEO's request), to seek legal advice which he didn't do and to talk to government ministers because the first we found out about this was when the media reported it.

"We wake up in the morning, see all the coverage, and suddenly wonder what on earth is the point in being in our roles when this sort of thing happens.

"It's the Chief Minister's leadership that has been poor in this. He ought to have handled that differently and we wouldn't be in this mess if he had."

'Met with resistance and obstructed by officers'

Senator Mézec says he has been met with resistance when trying to introduce policies to meet the commitment of reducing income inequality, and has felt obstructed by officers who he should've been able to rely on when trying to reform social housing rents.

He also claims that the Chief Minister didn't tell him and the Environment Minister before the landlord licencing scheme debate that he wouldn't support it - and only revealed that he wouldn't during the debate itself.

"Rings have been run around the Chief Minister which is his fault - and all of this compounding where I stand as a Minister that I have not had appropriate support for certain things that I've been pursuing is just not democratic.

"If I sit in the Assembly this week and pretend that none of that is the case, then I'll just be betraying the people who voted for me to be put in this position.

"They didn't vote for me to sell our democracy down the river."

In the letter to Senator Le Fondré, which you can read at the bottom of the page, Senator Mézec says he's received more support from outside government than within it.

"When fighting for an Andium Homes rent freeze over the last few months, I discovered officers had pursued a funding arrangement for this which I had explicitly ruled out. This should not be the case in a democracy.

"Before the (landlord licencing) debate, your support was sought, and you declined to tell us that you would not support us, leaving us to discover this during the debate itself. Because of this, I can have no confidence that I will not be treated the same way if I attempt to see through my ambitions to establish rent stabilisation measures, which are evidenced throughout Europe to improve affordability of private rental housing, but which will inevitably concern investors. A government should always be on the side of the people, not investors."

Relinquishing his Ministerial responsibilities

The Reform chairman says he's deeply disappointed to have to relinquish his Children and Housing Ministerial roles to make this stand, but his conscience will not allow him to do otherwise.

He took on both roles after the 2018 election.

Senator Mézec says he can't put his title ahead of doing what is right - and other Members should consider theirs and do the same.

"On the children's side of things, we are in a substantially better place than we were when I took over and there is a lot more that I want to do in the next year.

"On housing, there is a big package of recommendations that are about to be published, I think hopefully in the next month, paving the way for finally dealing with the affordability issue in housing."

The Senator told Channel 103 that he would like both roles back, if the Vote of No Confidence wins.

"I think there'll be members across the Assembly who will recognise how hard I've worked as a Minister, how I've worked well with other people, and there's unfinished business here that I want to get done, including fixing our broken social housing rent system that I've been obstructed time and time again by the civil service on. If I can renew my personal mandate, I think I'll be in a strengthened position to do that.

"With a different Chief Minister, then we may I think make some progress on these undemocratic cultural issues in the organisation that unfortunately the current Chief Minister has simply not been able to deal with and I think in some instances has probably made things worse."

The backing of Reform party colleagues and Deputy Montfort Tadier resigning as Assistant Economic Development Minister

Reform Jersey published a statement last week, saying they were giving full consideration to the Vote of No Confidence proposition.

Six days later, a joint decision has been made to support Senator Kristina Moore's motion.

As well as Senator Mézec's resignation, party colleague Deputy Montfort Tadier has stepped away from his Economic Development responsibilities.

He had specific oversight of culture and heritage and recently spoke out against the renovation of Elizabeth Castle being removed from the government plan.

"We do not take this decision lightly, but it has come to the point where we can no longer support this Chief Minister with a clear conscience. He has been weak or absent on key policies such as the landlords register, electoral reform, and reducing income inequality.

"This latest development is the final straw." - Deputy Tadier.

Senator Mézec says the party came to a unanimous decision to support Tuesday's vote.

"It is not something he (Deputy Tadier) takes lightly either because his remit, particularly on culture and heritage, he is particularly strong at and ambitious in, but he, like myself and the rest of my Reform Jersey colleagues, just have to vote with our conscience on Tuesday.

"That's why the two of us have had to resign our roles in government."

The mood within government

The only previous Ministerial resignation before today was Senator Steve Pallett. You can read more about why he decided to step away here.

No other Minister has signalled their intention publicaly. Senator Tracey Vallois has been the only other Minister to respond on social media, saying:

Senator Mézec says some Ministers have been 'seething' over the Charlier Parker saga - and it's up to them to decide whether they can put them aside and support Senator Moore's motion.

"I know other Ministers are angry as well and it will be down to them to reconcile with their conscience, whether they can put this anger aside and pretend there is nothing wrong so they can vote against the Vote of No Confidence.

"I hope that some of them will look at themselves, think a bit more about this, and decide that doing the right thing for the public means casting that verdict on the Chief Minister now to say he messed up, he did the wrong thing and it's time for change."

"I don't accept that when you go through difficult times, you throw democracy out of the window"

In a statement to the States Assembly a week ago, the Chief Minister accused some States members of trying to capitalise on the opportunity posed by the Charlie Parker controversy for political gain - and to see the Chief Executive, himself, or the government fall.

He also called on politicians to look at the government's actions during the coronavirus crisis to keep islanders safe.

Senator Mézec says he doesn't accept that when you go through difficult times, you throw democracy out of the window.

"We are having this conversation just after the United States have announced that their incumbent president has lost and will be replaced by a new one, it's just a few weeks ago that pretty much the whole of the government in Guernsey has been changed.

"In a democracy, you put the needs of the people first and that can mean adapting change and not being scared of that, for these sorts of reasons."

Not ruling out a bid to become the new Chief Minister

Whilst calling it a long shot at the moment, Senator Mézec has told Channel 103 that he wouldn't rule out a bid for Chief Minister if the vote of no confidence succeeds.

"I believe I've got a clear election manifesto, much clearer than other potential Chief Ministerial candidates, and if there were support for that I would rise to the challenge because I think that the public ought to have politicians who are prepared to put their money where their mouth is.

"I think that my experience as a Minister has shown that I am capable. I might be the youngest States member but I've done a good job as a Minister and in another Ministerial role or senior role I think I could do a good job as well so I wouldn't rule it out.

"But the question, for now, is whether we have confidence in the current Chief Minister. This episode recently has led me to conclude, and my party also to conclude, that we don't."

What Will Happen On Tuesday?

The Vote of No Confidence will be heard tomorrow (Tuesday 10 November) with a whole day set aside for politicians to put forward their views.

The Chief Minister will make a statement and answer questions about his position.

Should the VONC succeed, the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers would only remain in power until their replacements are chosen.

Any politician who gets the support of six others can then make their own bid for the leadership, and if elected - appoint their own Council of Ministers.

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