Progressive Labour Party delegates and members came in for a blistering account of the former One Bermuda Alliance government’s track record as the ruling party of Bermuda.
Premier David Burt, in his keynote address at the opening of the party’s 53rd Annual Delegates Conference, which officially closed last night at the Devonshire Recreation Club.
Admittedly he told the audience gathered that the “new generation of voters” are “anxious because our little island is not well”.
“We are not in good shape, and we haven’t been for some time,” said Mr Burt.
“Violence, poverty, workplace tension and financial stress have in many instances become the norm. Those factors combined with the a high cost of living that sees Bermudians leaving jobs that pay well here to take less money, pay more taxes overseas, but live with a little less stress. To reverse these trends, we cannot treat the symptoms, but we must address the cause.”
But he said: “In 4 ½ years the OBA doubled our debt, 2000 jobs were lost. Public services from buses, to trash collection, and schools were left to suffer while over $100 million was spent on the Americas Cup which only provided a temporary boost.
“Under the OBA Bermudians fell behind and were a mere afterthought. The PLP was elected to transform Bermuda’s economy for the future, and our policies which will put development & investment in Bermudians at the centre of our plans will yield long term benefits.
“We have started making progress, but we are a long way from success. And let me tell you what difference a year makes.
“For 4 ½ years the OBA did nothing about interest rates, or the cost of living; In 15 months the PLP cut the statutory interest rate in half from 7percent to 3.5 percent and eliminated duty on many staple food items.
“For 4 ½ years the OBA did nothing about the National Health Plan, and nothing about the Land title registry – Now your government is getting ready to roll out a National Health Plan and has opened the land title registry office.
“For 4 ½ years seniors fell behind with only 1 pension increase, however your government kept its promise to increase seniors pensions every year.”
And over the next four years he said the PLP government “will also deal with Justice”.
“I can remember in 2014 when the ‘Land Grab’ motion was passed in parliament – and a commission of inquiry was never called for by the Governor. Justice is finding the truth about what happened with people who were wrongfully disposed of their property. There is no price that you can put on justice, and so we will find the resources to ensure that we have that inquiry, that the country understands what happened in the past, and that we put in place measures to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future.
Looking ahead to where the PLP must go as a party, he said: “It is important to understand that the Bermuda of today is not the Bermuda of 1963 when our party was founded, or 1978 when I was born; it’s not even the same Bermuda as 15 months ago when we were elected. It is constantly changing and as a party, we must change with it.
“We must recognise that companies & countries do not survive if they do not evolve to meet the needs of changing societies. Political parties are no different! Remember that song we sang last year “so long bye bye” – well we need to be clear that if we don’t evolve then we risk people singing that to us the next time we go to the polls.”
Commenting on the Opposition’s new leader, he said the One Bermuda Alliance “thinks that Bermudians have forgotten their 4 ½ years in charge”.
“I mean, you can’t make this stuff up! On one hand you have the Deputy Leader Leah Scott saying that they are ‘Changing Course’ while the Opposition Leader is busy writing Op-Eds praising his friend Michael Fahy. What’s the saying? ‘Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are’.
“I watched the Opposition Leader’s swearing in and heard his apology and family I think he’s missed the point. He keeps saying there was nothing wrong with his plane trip. Let’s say even if we give him that – which I don’t – but even if we did; Mr Cannonier, you didn’t resign because you went on a plane, you resigned because you didn’t tell the truth. Or as he said, ‘a failure over time to be transparent’.
“The problem is that when Craig Cannonier opens his mouth you are just never quite sure if you can believe him. Like how he now says JetGate was about infrastructure development, but in 2014 it was about gaming.
“Let’s face it, he couldn’t even keep a promise for one week. He got sworn in, pledged that he would tell us all about JetGate, and then a week later [after not saying anything else] telling us he’s said it all, and there is nothing to add.
“I never thought I would say this, but I agree with Michael Dunkley – who said that the Opposition Leader needs to tell the people the truth about what happened in JetGate. What is it that the elders say? “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember what you said”.
“But enough about the OBA – because despite how much we may not like them, they have a role to play. Bermuda will be a better and stronger country with a strong opposition, and I want them to be the very best opposition they can be. Key word Opposition.”
Charting the way forward, he added: “The Progressive Labour Party will be the government for at least four more years and we must work constructively to progress the country as a whole.
“Our policies and ethos may be different than the opposition, but we want to ensure Bermuda has a prosperous future. We cannot have a prosperous future without International Business, we cannot have a prosperous future without tourism, and we cannot have a prosperous future without more equity in our society.
“I think that we can all accept those as facts, and we can also accept that the best way to progress as a country, is for as many of us as possible to be rowing in the same direction. While we are rowing in the same direction, dialogue and consultation may mean that we may have to shift course 5 degrees to the left, but we’ll still make the destination and that is a better and fairer Bermuda.
“As a country we will not be successful with an ‘us -vs- them’ mentality. At just 65,000 people, there are very few of us, but there are millions around the world in the United Kingdom, European Union, and United Stated who would like to Bermuda fail. That is why unity of common purpose must be paramount for Bermuda to succeed.
“The next chapter means that we all have to be rowing in the same direction. Government, Employers, and Unions must all work together, must all reason together, and must ensure that we are collectively changing our mind-sets to not only grow the economic pie together, but ensure a more equitable, more just distribution of that bigger pie.”
The Premier concluded by reaffirming the party’s deep rooted “history and core principles of not settling for equality, but ensuring equity and justice” and readiness “to meet the challenges” of the future.
“We have a clear roadmap laid out in our platform of what the next 4 years will look like,” said Mr Burt.
“However, we must evolve to meet the changing world without fear of losing our soul. As long as our policies are ensuring equity, righting past injustices from Monk to Mazumbo, the PLP will be fulfilling its mission.”