Editorial: Odd usages and constitutionalis

During the past week, some letter writers to another section of the print media objected to the use of the popular expression “would have” and the past participle to replace the preterite tense of the verb; as in “I would have gone” for “I went”.

Technically, they are correct, for indeed the conditional “would have” signifies that whatever it was that you wanted to do, it was not done for one reason or another, so that as one of the writers observed, the dependent clause usually begins with “but”, as for instance, “I would have attended, but the rain fell”. Nonetheless, we are chary of condemning popular usages of the English language given its affinity to enforced changes over the years despite the objections of the purists.

Thus we read recently that the formerly much despised “irregardless” is now acceptable form and, we suppose that not to long from now, “criteria” will be adopted as a singular noun and “prayer” will be a verb form rather than a noun, just as “iced cream” became “ice cream” and “Welsh rarebit” transformed into “Welsh rabbit”.

At another level, there was also some dispute last week concerning the meaning of the expression “community spread” in relation to the local incidence of the current pandemic. The concept is given a rather restricted definition by the Centers for Disease Control in the US as “a circumstance where people in an area become infected with the virus and are not sure how they became infected”. Again, this does not tally with the populist meaning which rather simplistically holds that there is community spread once there is a sufficiently sizeable number of cases within a community. We prefer though to err with the science; so long as a source of infection is known or traceable, while there might be an unwelcome number of infections, it becomes difficult to describe the spread as community based.

There was public discourse too on the constitutional propriety of Cabinet, as announced by the Prime Minister, purporting to determine the format of party campaigns for the upcoming by-election in St George North. As far as we are concerned, Cabinet can have no authority in this area since section 41C (1) of the Constitution expressly cedes unfettered jurisdiction in “the conduct of elections in every constituency” to the Electoral and Boundaries Commission established by section 41A of that document. It should follow therefore that any measure emanating from this unlawful assumption of authority by Cabinet will be null and void.

Finally, some wondered as to who would become the Leader of the Opposition should the candidate from the Barbados Labour Party not be successful in the by-election. Clearly, if the winner is from the party of the current Opposition leader, there is no problem. In all other cases, section 74 (2) of the Constitution assumes significance.

First, there must be a need to appoint a leader of the Opposition which would entail the existence of some conflict between the current holder of the post and the incoming MP. Even then, it becomes a matter solely for the judgment of the Governor General as to who is better able to command the support of the majority of those who do not support the Prime Minister.      

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