Building up relationships: Premier Michael Dunkley said the island should take care of its customers first and recent work stoppages haven’t been appropriate.” *File photos
Building up relationships: Premier Michael Dunkley said the island should take care of its customers first and recent work stoppages haven’t been appropriate.” *File photos

Premier Michael Dunkley has named Finance Minister E.T. “Bob” Richards as deputy Premier.

The Premier, in an exclusive interview with The Bermuda Sun, said earlier this week he has wheedled down the candidates to two individuals and late yesterday afternoon, his office confirmed that it was Mr Richards. He was scheduled to make the formal announcement this morning.

“I am pleased to appoint Minister Richards as Deputy Premier. We certainly have a depth of talent among our team, and I am gratified at the level of support expressed for Minister Richards,” said Mr Dunkley through a statement.

“He has demonstrated a strength of knowledge and leadership and he has proven over the years that he is an innovative thinker. He has never shied away from making the tough decisions. He’s tackled difficult matters such as the economy, Government’s deficit and debt positions and has sought to find meaningful solutions to assist in getting Bermuda back on track.”

The appointment will be effective immediately. Mr Dunkley rose from deputy Premier to Premier in mid-May, after the resignation of Craig Cannonier, who stepped down amid corruption questions. 

After a month as Premier, Mr Dunkley said his top priority remains fostering economic growth.

“Things are starting to turn around,” he said.  “One of the first signs that an economy is turning around is confidence. People look for confidence. And if you talk to a lot of our business partners here in Bermuda, they say there is now an air of confidence here.”

He specifically cited a payroll construction tax rebate, which will go into effect July 1st, as one initiative the government is undertaking in an attempt to foster growth.

“I think that that will be another important stimulus to our economy,” he said.  “The construction industry has received it in a positive light.”

Premier Dunkley spoke with Bermuda Sun journalist Danny McDonald about same-sex marriage, campaign finance reform and industrial action.


Recent industrial action

When it comes to unions, Mr Dunkley paints himself as a “uniter, not a divider”. 

However, he did brand some past industrial actions as “unacceptable.”

He specifically cited a strike that suspended ferry service, leaving long lines of tourists queuing up in Dockyard last week as something that should not have occurred.

“You need to take care of your customer. The customer comes first,” he said.

“Unfortunately, I think I’m supported by a significant number of people in the public there have been work stoppages that haven’t been appropriate,” he said. “Even looking back, the union might say privately that there was a better way to do this.”

“Until we build up relationships where all parties respect each other and govern themselves accordingly, we can make all the changes we want, it won’t work,” he said. “You can’t stop people from walking off a job. You can have all the consequences you want. It won’t work.”

“I’m here to build relationships,” he said. “I will respect you, that you have the interest of your workers at heart. I would expect you to respect where I’m coming from.”

Same-sex marriage

Mr Dunkley does not appear to be ready to make any significant reforms regarding same-sex marriage on the island. Same sex marriage is currently not legal in Bermuda. Other jurisdictions, such as the UK and numerous US states, have legalized same sex marriage in recent years.

The Human Rights Commission, along with the US Consulate, is hosting a forum aimed at fostering a dialogue about LGBT issues in Bermuda.

“The government has made their position up until this point very clear,” he said.

“We’ve made some progress on human rights issues in 18 months, which I’m pleased about,” he said.  “We’ll work with the US Consulate with what it’s been doing this week because we believe the Human Rights Commission should always be involved in education. Other than that I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment without taking some advice from my colleagues.”

Campaign finance reform

The premier would support a tabled motion in the House that calls for a committee to be formed and examine how campaign finance reform is handled in other jurisdictions.

“At the present there’s very little restrictions in terms of what people can do other than what the parties implement themselves,” he said. “I’m the type of person who is always open to take a look to see if there is a better way.”

He added, “As the premier I respect the authority of the House. I think campaign finance reform should come through the House rather than the government or the opposition.”

On government travel expenses

Mr Dunkley said he was not interested in commenting about past overseas trips undertaken by government officials. In the past, details of the costs of trips have not been forthcoming.  For instance, a dollar figure has yet to be publicly detailed for a government trip in March to London, for an Islamic financial conference.

“We need to understand Bermuda is part of a bigger world. I’m the premier and all travel will be approved through me. So I think you could read into that.”

“I will lead by example. I won’t hesitate to get on a plane to go somewhere to do something. 

“I’m going to put it under a very strong magnifying glass because we know it’s not cheap and we know it takes you away from other things you have to do.”

JetGate

Mr Dunkley assumed Bermuda’s top elected post last month, after Craig Cannonier resigned amid questions of campaign donations to an American businessman who was eyeing Bermuda for development. Questions of corruption and quid pro quo were swirling around Mr Cannonier at the time. A month later, some of those questions remain, such as who received the money and how it was used.

Asked about an OBA investigation into the matter, Mr Dunkley, not for the first time, deferred to campaign chairman Thad Hollis.

“That question should be directed to the party chair,” he said.

When pressed if he had any insight into the investigation, he said “I do because I meet with the party chair on a regular basis but it’s not appropriate for me to comment on that…I’m sure all of Bermuda will hear something when he’s ready to speak.”

He said the OBA has begun to heal from the political upheaval of JetGate.

“I would say the healing has started because when you have an event like that, it just doesn’t happen quickly. We have more to do and I’ve tried to be very cognizant of the fact that everyone will have a different hurt over what took place,” he said.

“We’ll continue to work through that, but I do see a lot of positive sprouts coming out of it,” he said.  “I think moving forward, we’ll certainly live and learn a lot of valuable lessons from it.”

What lessons?

“I think it would be premature for me to speak publicly about it; we need to talk more as a group,” he said.