Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Bob Richards shot down “inflammatory”claims by the People’s Campaign that the proposed airport redevelopment plan will enslave the people of Bermuda with unlimited debt.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr Richards accused People’s Campaign advocates of deliberately adding fuel to the fire by deliberately comparing the proposed $250 million airport redevelopment plan with the “inflammatory” issue of economic and mental slavery.

He was responding to the new 69-page special report released by the People’s Campaign on Monday entitled ‘A Bad Deal for Bermuda’.

The report details the activist group’s objections to the Government’s deal with Canadian construction firm Aecon to redevelop LF Wade International Airport.

The Minister led off his remarks saying he was “pleased to hear that People’s Campaign have finally acknowledged that Bermuda really does need a new airport”.

But he said: “Placing an infrastructure project that will benefit all Bermudians plus our leisure and business visitors in the context of slavery is unfortunate, misplaced and deliberately inflammatory.

“I wonder if those Bermudians who will leave the ranks of the unemployed to return to the dignity of honest work will consider themselves enslaved.

“I wonder if those Bermudians who will leave the ranks of the unemployed to return to the dignity of honest work will consider themselves enslaved? I wonder if those Bermudians working at the airport, whose conditions will be vastly improved, will consider themselves enslaved?

“I wonder if those Bermudians who are relieved that their Government has found a way to stimulate the economy, and create jobs without increasing the national debt, will consider themselves enslaved?

The Minister also said the issue of having the management of the airport under “foreign control” is misleading. “This is a deliberately misleading statement and an indication of the People’s Campaign’s carelessness with truth and facts.

“As I have explained in my many presentations around the island, the Government of Bermuda will set up a wholly owned Quango to manage the manager. So there will be no unfettered foreign control of our airport.

“In any event, the agreement calls for the Government of Bermuda to have a profit sharing agreement with the management company.”

On the issue of costs, raised by Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) President Chris Furbert, that the building project would cost taxpayers $1,000 per square foot, Mr Richards said that’s a “faulty analysis”.

While noting that the Progressive Labour Party’s 2008 airport proposal would cost taxpayers $514 million, he said 23 percent would go towards things like taxiways and airside civil works with “complex underground structures”.

Ultimately, the Minister said the People Campaign’s criticism of the proposed new airport is politically motivated. “I don’t recall the BIU, or the Bermuda Public Service Union ever challenging a public project before — certainly not Berkeley, Heritage Wharf, TCD, Port Royal or the Dame Lois Browne Evans building as bad deals.

“We know those cost Bermuda taxpayers hundreds of millions of extra dollars, that in no small way contributed to the mountain of public debt we now have.”

The Minister concluded: “The public can draw their own conclusions from that. For the sake of Bermuda, let’s focus on focus and not divisive language that is false. This is about jobs.”

By Ceola Wilson