Premier Paula Cox, pictured with election candidates, appealed for voters to get out and go to the polls. *Photo by Raymond Hainey
Premier Paula Cox, pictured with election candidates, appealed for voters to get out and go to the polls. *Photo by Raymond Hainey

WEDNESDAY, OCT. 17: A General Election will be held this year, Premier Paula Cox tonight signalled to the party faithful.

And she pledged an end to conscription and the creation of a smaller, full-time Bermuda Regiment – sure to be popular with young male voters eligible for call-up.

Ms Cox also – in line with earlier speakers – also issued a rallying call and appealed for voters to get out and go to the polls.

Ms Cox told the party faithful: “This year – and I’m giving you a hint here – in the coming election, the Progressive Labour Party will count on you to stand up for these values and look at what we have done in our three years of office.”

She added: “We are committed to having a full-time Regiment with a full-time complement of officers and move away from mandated conscription.”

Ms Cox was speaking as she delivered the keynote speech at the party’s annual delegates conference at the auditorium at CedarBridge Academy in Pembroke.

She said: “Five years ago, we as a party committed to work for Bermuda and Bermudians – we have kept that promise because we have never stopped fighting to make Bermuda everything she can be.

“We are standing strong at a defining moment – a moment when our economy is still recovering and many of our people are feeling vulnerable.

“It’s far too difficult to find jobs, the cost of living is high and gang violence is a problem among our youth.”

But she added: “The PLP government is addressing all these issues and we will not be hindered by political sniping which seeks to detract us from the real issues.”

“We will continue to work to improve the lives of every resident on this great island.”

She said that the island was working to attract the lucrative hedge fund market to the island, while Government was committed to redeveloping Hamilton’s waterfront areaMs Cox said that education would continue to be a priority, allowing young Bermudians to grow up into responsible adults with the prospects of good careers.

She added that the party would continue to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, as well as encouraging the arts.

Ms Cox said “new strategic partnerships and international alliances” would help Bermuda respond to the economic downturn.

And she singled out a trip to the Middle East, which offered the prospect of investment from the tiny, oil-rich state of Quatar and a tax treaty with Mexico, which has a fast-growing economy and increased numbers of tourists keen to travel abroad.

Ms Cox said: “Let us remember we inherited a country full of division and a forgotten group of people were sidelined by people who put business first. We changed that equation – now we put the people first.”

She added: “If anything has hurt this country, it’s the politics of division – it’s the lines which are constantly drawn in the sand which wastes the energy which should be used to steer Bermuda through these troubled times.”

Ms Cox said that the island faced “two very different philosophies” at the upcoming General Election.

She added: “There is the PLP, which believes in investment in people and standing strong for Bermudians. On the other hand, we have a cynically re-named UBP which offers no real ideas or real solutions to our challenges. They don’t get it.”

Ms Cox said Economic Empowerment Zones in the east, centre and west of the island were stimulating small, Bermudian-owned business and creating jobs.

She added: “That’s how we levelled the playing fields and helped those who needed it most.

“We in the PLP measure the success of our economy not by how much money we can get away with not spending, but by how much we can invest in Bermudians.”

Ms Cox said millions of dollars spent on housing had created “the most affordable housing in the history of Bermuda” and was money well-spent, while more had been spent on job training programmes and on concessions to assist everyone from mothers needing affordable childcare, to schoolchildren and seniors.

She added a joint drive to beat violence and gun crime involving Government House, Government and the police had led to falling crime rates, while a task force set up to combat gang culture offered routes out of gangs for the young.

Ms Cox said: “We did all this during the worst financial circumstances since the 1930s.”

She added that countries around the world faced the same challenges as Bermuda as the global crisis hit hard and Bermuda had “chosen to invest in people” rather than introduce austerity measures.

Ms Cox pointed out that – compared to most countries – Bermuda’s debt remained relatively low.

She said: “Instead of a discredited recipe of austerity, we offer investment programmes which will generate jobs well into the future.”

She signalled that new ways of dealing with Government property involving private sector parties would in the future create “a boom in the construction industry, creating jobs for unskilled, skilled and professional workers.”

 Ms Cox added that a PLP Government would continue to boost tourism by backing new hotel developments and finding ways to increase air arrivals.

And she said: “We will continue to get the balance right with Bermuda’s fiscal affairs, even while we continue to provide a safety net for distressed sectors and those who are struggling.”