OBA Leader Craig Cannonier *File photo
OBA Leader Craig Cannonier *File photo

Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members of the House of Assembly,

It is a privilege to stand before you this morning in this Honourable House as the representative of the people of Devonshire South Central, and as the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance.

It is an exciting moment for me.  This is my maiden speech as a Member of Parliament.  It is also my first as Leader of the Opposition.

That it should also be in reply to the Speech from the Throne adds even more meaning to the task; one I commit to with the deepest sense of respect for this legislature, and the deepest sense of responsibility to the people of Bermuda.

Mr. Speaker,

The party I lead wants to bring change to Bermuda; change that gives people a greater say in the work of this country; change in our political culture from one of confrontation to one of collaboration; change in the way we go about our business as a country, and change to a government that works for people.

We believe change is necessary because the problems of Bermuda are too serious, too deep for more of the same.

We have to free ourselves to be better. That means freeing ourselves from habits and norms that have failed our potential to be one Bermuda, united and at peace.

My colleagues and I believe the need for change begins with our politics.

As these problems worsened over the last few years, the squabbling that characterises party politics has seemed to drift farther and farther from the point.

Mr Speaker,

It is my humble opinion that the point of our presence here in this Chamber today is to do our best for the people of Bermuda.  Our job is to serve the public, to solve their problems, to run the country on their behalf, efficiently and well.  Our job is to do so with integrity and selflessness. Our job is to put Bermuda first.

This may seem obvious to say, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and, more often than not, the work of our governments, no matter the promises, no matter how busy, no matter how well intentioned, has not solved the challenges and issues that bedevil our society.

Look around you.

Bermuda is in crisis.  Our economy is failing. Our education system is failing children and there is a massive breakdown in public safety that has many of our young men in the grip of gangs and guns.

People everywhere are hurting. Every day I am sure all of us in this chamber hear from people living hard times.

A few days ago, I was approached by a young woman in her mid 20s; a single mother with a small child.  She has been jobless since September.  She will not be eligible for financial assistance until the middle of December.  When I met her, she had $300 to her name, the bills were piling up; she had no prospect for any improvement in her situation. She is trying to be brave. She is trying to be positive, but she is at her wit’s end.

Mr. Speaker,

The details are different, but this young woman’s troubles are being played out in homes all around Bermuda: Jobless fathers with bills to pay and mouths to feed; mothers who send their children to school hungry, elderly people forced to choose between medicine and food; business people struggling to meet their payrolls.

Bermudians of all kinds are suffering, many of them suffering as never before.

The people of Bermuda need our best effort, they need our help. We must, more than ever, be about the business of the people. It is our duty.

With so many serious problems facing Bermuda, we ask the following question: Is there relief on the horizon as a result of what is contained in the Throne Speech?

We commend its theme, Let Us Build One Another Together. It is the right sentiment, a worthy goal; which we hope will prevail over the Government’s practice of dividing the people of this country for political gain.

The speech itself puts forward ideas and plans to help Bermudians get through these very tough times.

We see much we could support, including many ideas borrowed from us.

We agree on the need to re-train people, and pray the programmes being assembled will open new doors for them.

We agree with career and job training support for young Bermudians. Hotel concessions tied to the hiring of Bermudian entertainers are good. We agree with health insurance reform that minimizes upfront payments for medical care and we agree with homeowner eligibility for financial assistance, as well as tougher drunk driving penalties.

We support the review proposed for the 60/40 business ownership rule for its potential to finance important projects such as the redevelopment of Hamilton’s waterfront. We welcome a referendum on gambling. It is important to let people decide important issues by way of referendum.  We support measures that protect qualified Bermudians from unfair hiring practices. And we are intrigued by the idea of a Cisco Academy that could train Bermudians to fully participate in our high tech economy.

The question for Bermuda is whether this Government can be trusted to follow through on all they promise.

It’s a relevant question Mr. Speaker, because this Government has disappointed many. The gap between its initial promise and its record is significant and telling. This is a Government that became too comfortable in power. Glaring mistakes were made and things went wrong, as the Premier herself acknowledged. Accountability, the foundation of any successful democracy, was never applied. The disconnection, the complacency, the arrogance and excesses are all signs of a government that doesn’t think it will ever lose power, never be sent packing by the voters. It is a recipe for poor and ineffective government.

The Government became a facilitator of hard times, alienating job creators, spending us into debtor nation status. What ensued was the largest decline in jobs and opportunity in Bermuda’s modern history.

The Government likes to blame our hard times on the global economy. Its ministers say that as often as they can because it gets them off the hook, but make no mistake Mr. Speaker, this is a Bermuda recession caused by the Government’s financial and economic mismanagement.

Mr. Speaker,

Bermuda needs a new approach, where it is smart about the world, smart about growing opportunity and smart about protecting our national interest. We need to get this Island back to work.

The One Bermuda Alliance has been consistent in calling for a new and better way to conduct the people’s business. We believe our future depends on developing a new approach to politics and problem solving.

Our programme is anchored to one of the OBA’s founding principles – inclusiveness. We do not believe Bermudians want to be divided on the basis of race or class and we reject that. Bermuda is too small for any other way.

An OBA Government will embrace all Bermuda for the sake of Bermuda. We will take advantage of our collective strength. We will not leave anyone behind. We will eliminate all forms of discrimination. We will end the politics of division and show Bermuda there is a better way. That is where our future lies.

We will bring people together with opportunities to work together and give them greater say in the business of Bermuda, their business.

We will immediately overhaul the Parliamentary Elections Act to involve as many citizens as possible in decisions about the future of the Island. We will extend the advance poll for those who are travelling, and absentee ballots to students living abroad. 

We will introduce measures to bring a greater level of accountability to the political process than we have today.

We will give people the opportunity to initiate referenda on major issues of the day – giving them the right to have their say in our collective future.

We will arm constituents with the right to recall their Member of Parliament. We will introduce fixed-term elections. No longer will a government’s political agenda take precedence over the public agenda. Think of fixed term elections as the people’s deadline.

Mr. Speaker,

The OBA will change the political culture of this Island to one that is more collaborative, less confrontational.

The key is to lead by example. Not just by words but by practice. To change the culture, we will put in place mechanisms that not only invite but encourage people to work together. We want people to get beyond petty partisan politics. Bermuda first will be our mantra.

We will strengthen Parliamentary committees, giving backbench MPs real power to investigate, call witnesses and report back. Hearings will be open to the public and the press. That is key.

We will make better use of our MPs and Senators by putting them together to work on solutions for Bermuda. We will encourage bipartisan cooperation through the bipartisan potential of the committee system. The Joint Select Committee on Crime is an excellent example of how this can work. We will make bipartisan arrangements a regular feature of our Parliament.

We will invite a member of the Opposition to sit in Cabinet.

We will create a Contractor General, independent of government, to oversee Government projects, from tendering to completion, to ensure rules and guidelines are strictly enforced and to identify unfair practices or offensive conduct.

A strong Public Accounts Committee, working with the Auditor General and Contractor General will prevent and deter the kinds of abuses and excesses that have so damaged the public purse and the Island’s reputation.

Mr. Speaker,

Our aim is to break the confrontational cycle of politics and move Bermuda into an era of collaboration.  Collaboration does not mean setting aside our or any other party’s chief responsibility as the Official Opposition. Constructive criticism lies at the core of democracy. It is only through criticism that we can understand and repair our failings. If our observations, advice and criticism help the Government perform better, then we’re fine with that.

Mr. Speaker,

The need for positive, sure-handed leadership of the economy has never been more urgent.

It is imperative we show people there is a way out of our troubles. Too many have become deeply pessimistic; too many feel there is nothing to be done to reverse our decline.

We understand the sense of helplessness, particularly when the Government says it has no power to do anything; that we just have to ride out the storm.

We don’t see it that way at all. Bermuda has the means to shape its destiny. We have the means to make a difference. We reject the Government’s passivity.

The OBA’s goal for the economy is to come out of this recession with all the ingredients in place for an economic boom that generates jobs and opportunity, grows paycheques and creates a more secure future for our people.

To achieve this we must create a new foundation for growth – one that encourages international and local business to flourish; one that makes our customers feel welcome and one that puts forward a regulatory system that is more efficient and user-friendly.

This means change, Mr. Speaker, change in the way we conduct business as a government and change in the way we work with the outside world.

We don’t see those changes happening without a change in government. To continue with a government that antagonizes international business, leaves tourists stranded at Dockyard and shows such little respect for taxpayer dollars is to follow a recipe for more of the same.

Mr. Speaker,

Our first concern must be to help people who are struggling. We would eliminate the employee portion of payroll taxes for employees earning less than $50,000 a year. This would put more money in the hands of people who are trying hard to make ends meet in this expensive economy.

We would require government to pay its bills in no more than 30 days. It pays its bills too slowly. This would put cash in the hands of struggling local businesses.

To encourage the formation of new jobs in Bermuda, we would grant employers a two-year payroll tax exemption for new hiring. So, if a company employs 10 people and they add three more staff, for the next two years the company will not have to pay payroll tax on those additional three employees.

We would reform and fast-track the Planning process. The current process is clogged by red tape, preventing blueprints from becoming real projects that create jobs.

We would eliminate the licensing requirement for non-Bermudian spouses for the purchase of property. This policy is not only blatantly discriminatory, but, like Planning, inhibits the ability of people to buy, build and renovate homes. These are projects that can create jobs in the hard-pressed construction industry.

 

 

Mr. Speaker,

The OBA will reform policies, practices and systems that hamper economic growth. We need to grow the economy. Only through growth can we generate the income to support our social programmes and pay down our debt. 

We would suspend the current term limit policy for a period of two years pending a search for a new policy that works better for Bermuda.

The term limit policy has been a job killer for Bermudians and contributed to the exporting of Bermuda-based jobs to competing jurisdictions such as Ireland, Switzerland and Canada. Suspending the policy will stop the job losses.

There is more we can do.

We believe there is an urgent need to cut red tape across the board to facilitate economic growth. Red tape inhibits the inflow of foreign exchange – the lifeblood of our economy – and irritates our customers. The time is long past due to get rid of it.

Government can start the process by setting up a Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission to streamline government processes, improve delivery of services, and make government more efficient, more cost-effective, more transparent and more user-friendly.

Cutting red tape will reduce the cost of doing business, helping us become more competitive.

Mr. Speaker,

We believe there can be no meaningful, sustainable economic recovery without Bermudians understanding that we are in the service business. To be better at it, we need to change attitudes toward the people who come here to work and live – our customers.

They bring wealth to our island. They spend in our stores. They create jobs.

Government must lead this change in attitude. We must change to a culture that is service-oriented. We must commit totally to providing better service to our customers.

One of the biggest factors in our faltering economic performance is Immigration. Complaints about the Immigration Department’s intimidating manner and bureaucratic hassles cannot be ignored. These are not our words, Mr. Speaker; they are the words of our customers.

Immigration is a major source of frustration about doing business in Bermuda. It must radically remake itself into part of Bermuda’s welcome wagon for our customers.

It is essential we change the way we greet people. We have to encourage them, not alienate them. The whole idea of guest workers as customers, as long-stay visitors, is crucial to getting the economy back on track.

Mr. Speaker,

The high cost of this Government is borne each day by Bermudians and our customers. It has made us less competitive. To reduce the cost of government over time, we would freeze the size of the civil service and reduce it through attrition.

We would cut consultants and frequent travel.

We would cut Ministers’ pay. It is essential that Ministers of the Government lead by example. We cannot expect Bermudians to tighten their belts without their leaders doing the same. Sacrifice must be shared.

We are at a loss to understand the Premier’s decision not to cut Ministerial pay as a way to show the public we are all in this together. It is a failure of leadership revealing how far off the path the Government has strayed.

Mr. Speaker,

We find it odd the Government made no mention of its $1.2 billion debt and how it was going to be paid down. The debt, after all, is one of the most significant facts of life in Bermuda today. The $190,000 spent every day to pay the interest on the debt is the reason teachers are laid off, roads are not fixed, charities are struggling and the Mirrors residential programme has been postponed.

It is the tragedy of this Government, under this Finance Minister, that its carefree spending spree of recent years has crippled its ability to help Bermudians just when they need it the most. The Government should play it straight with the people. Speak to them about this issue. It is after all their money. They have a right to know.

The Government’s billion-dollar debt is a large, ugly fact of life that will weigh on Bermuda for generations to come. The OBA is committed to reducing it, but that can happen only by growing the economy and channelling our earnings toward debt reduction.

Mr. Speaker,

Bermuda’s reputation in the international business world has been injured by this Government. Whatever its intentions, whatever its thinking, Bermuda’s Government has fumbled the ball badly with this extremely important sector of our economy, responsible for more than 60% of all economic activity on the island. That’s jobs, incomes, careers and business opportunities for thousands of Bermudians.

Despite the stakes, Government’s tone, words and actions have needlessly alienated and endangered our relationship with this vitally important sector. We should not be losing reinsurance business to competing jurisdictions. Reinsurance is one of the very few sectors in the international economy that has actually grown during the worldwide recession, yet this Government’s short-sighted, ill-tempered, alienating stance toward international business has damaged our preferred position in the industry and helped create our own home grown recession.

Mr. Speaker,

It is easier to maintain relationships than it is to build new ones; and it is even harder to rebuild old ones. We do not believe the current Government has the credibility or goodwill to restore Bermuda’s reputation in the marketplace. We believe only an OBA Government can send the signals that will help stop the drain of business to other jurisdictions and return growth to the economy.

As a government, the OBA will divert more resources and energy to the selling of Bermuda, in conjunction with Bermuda Business. It is not good enough to tell the business world “we’re open for business”; we should be telling them “we want your business.”

One initiative we believe will pay dividends is a “concierge” type service, similar to that used in the Isle of Man and Malta, to actively shepherd our international customers through the labyrinth of government approvals and help them settle in.

Mr. Speaker,

Members of the OBA economic team have been speaking to these issues for many months, and our ideas have played a central role in creating a new economic policy for Bermuda, one that will provide a safe and secure future for our people.

The question for the people of Bermuda is whether to continue supporting a government that presided over the largest decline in jobs and opportunity in our modern history, or to support a party that represents change and a way out of our troubles.

Mr. Speaker,

Last year, I attended the funeral of a young man who was a victim of gang violence. It was another tragedy – another lost life, another family shattered, a son left without a father. We can’t allow it to continue.

The Police Service agrees that violence has “severely affected the quality of life in communities across Bermuda.”  Statistics heavily underline that statement:

• The number of firearms incidents has doubled every year since 2007.

• One person was shot in 2008, 17 in 2009 and 37 in 2010.  Of the total shot, 16 died. So far in 2011, eight people have been murdered, five by gunshot wounds.

• There are more than 20 unsolved murders on the books.  Fourteen of them involved the use of firearms.

The violence must be stopped now.

We are encouraged the Police have made inroads in recent months with more arrests, more gun seizures, and even some convictions. We are also encouraged the public has begun to come forward, knowing that the only way to free themselves from the grip of gangs is to help Police catch them.  As a result, several gunmen have been sentenced to long periods of incarceration.

But more needs to be done, particularly at the community level. That’s why we will bring Operation Ceasefire to Bermuda. It’s an approach to violent crime that has achieved dramatic results in US cities by using the strong arm of the law in conjunction with community-based action teams to intervene on the streets and wean gang members away from gang life. Operation Ceasefire is not a cure-all but a vital step we feel Bermuda must take.

We appreciate the National Security Minister recently said he would bring Ceasefire to Bermuda after watching a movie on the subject. We nevertheless will continue to push the programme until we are convinced the Government’s commitment is genuine.

Mr. Speaker,

Fear of crime has worked its way deep into the daily lives of Bermudians. Seniors are locked in their homes, parents are concerned for the safety of their children, people at public events wonder if gang violence will erupt in their midst. Our quality of life is under siege. 

Against this backdrop, the Government cut back the Police budget this year. While we recognise the need for greater spending control within Government, there are aspects of policing that simply cannot be cut. The Service spends roughly 80% of its budget on personnel and this year’s cutbacks make the fight against crime more difficult.

An OBA Government will provide Bermuda with security and peace of mind that allow us to once again live without fear of being robbed, shot or burgled. 

We will equip Police with resources and support they need to get the job done, including the full-time presence of parish constables in our neighbourhoods. We must build trust between Police and the people.

We will equip Police with advanced technologies such as shot spotters that can triangulate the position of gunfire and help them cordon off an area. We will make sure an expanded CCTV camera system is backed by an effective monitoring control room staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We will make sure the Police have an effective electronic tagging programme.

Mr. Speaker,

An OBA Government will bring order to Bermuda’s roads. Bad driving habits, speeding and drunk driving are commonplace. We would strengthen the Police presence on the roads and activate more speed cameras. We also support Government measures to expand the use of breathalyzers, increase penalties for drunk driving and impose DUI education for all disqualified drivers.

Our roads have become highways for the disrespectful and the reckless. They don’t have to be that way. We can fix it.

Mr. Speaker,

The public is desperate for dramatic change in education.

Despite the Government’s best intentions over 13 years, they have not made it happen. The One Bermuda Alliance will provide the consistent leadership and political will to reform the public education system so that it works now for students, educators, parents and our community.

Mr. Speaker,

We have heard the PLP Government use the term “bias to action” in reference to their economic plans. Unfortunately, when it comes to public education, a bias to action has been largely absent in their efforts at reform.

Four and a half years ago, the Hopkins Report revealed that the education system was “on the brink of meltdown.” Two years ago, the Bermuda First Report issued “a call to action,” stating that “Education is justifiably one of the top priorities of Bermuda’s government.” It connected educational opportunity for individual Bermudians with “economic growth, fewer drains on government resources and improved social outcomes such as lower crime rates.”

Professor Mincy’s 2009 report on young black males highlighted the fundamental importance of keeping young black Bermudian men in school. The report identified a clear correlation between “education attainment gaps” and lower income levels and unemployment.

The message could not be clearer. It is repeated in report after report. But the PLP Government has not reformed our public education system. With few exceptions, the Hopkins recommendations have not been implemented. Yet the individual success of our students, the stability of our communities and the secure future of our country all depend on getting this done.

There is very little in this Throne Speech that could be regarded as actionable. The Government does propose amendments to the Bermuda Educators Council Act 2002. On the one hand, this legislation may help ensure teachers are properly qualified. On the other hand, it begs the question of why the Ministry has allowed unqualified educators to teach in areas and at levels for which they are not properly certified. Both the One Bermuda Alliance and the public look forward to receiving additional information that clarifies the rationale for the amendments.

The One Bermuda Alliance believes you cannot legislate teaching quality... it comes from hiring the best teachers and getting the best out of those teachers. And this requires a significant investment in continuous professional development, an area that was inadequately funded at the time of the Hopkins review and has been further reduced over the last two years through education budget cuts. In fact, many in the community feel that budget cuts have fallen disproportionally on education, given its importance to our young people and Bermuda’s future.

Mr. Speaker,

The effective education reform Bermuda and our children so desperately need requires action, not just “a bias to action.” But in the midst of severe challenges in education, it seems to be business as usual for the PLP Government. The Minister says that the Government’s “plan for education reform is simple… as simple as a return to basics.” The One Bermuda Alliance wishes it were that simple, but we know, and the public knows, that it is not.

Despite the many challenges to education reform, the One Bermuda Alliance believes it can be done and that it can provide our children with the tools and skills necessary to compete for good jobs in our economy.  But it won’t happen without a detailed plan, consistent leadership and the political will to follow through on the Hopkins recommendations. 

The One Bermuda Alliance has a plan for education reform that begins at the preschool level and continues through to the Bermuda College. Among other things, we will implement:

• a fully integrated technical curriculum

• expanded preschools

• a serious commitment to professional development for teachers and principals

• an independent standards board to restore trust in educational testing results

• a longer school day to provide more time for sports, music, arts and remedial support, and

• more effective discipline methods pioneered in charter schools. 

We also plan to consider other initiatives, such as a single-sex school for boys to help address the significant dropout rate for young black males.

We will continue to praise the Government for undertaking positive initiatives, such as the Cambridge curriculum. But one programme here and another programme there do not add up to comprehensive education reform.

Mr. Speaker,

We were disappointed health care received little attention in the Throne Speech. The health of Bermuda is a big issue that cannot be sidelined.

We face stern challenges in both health care costs and health care.

Recent reports confirmed that health care costs are rising at an unsustainable rate, and that many families are finding themselves priced out of healthcare insurance.

Costs have risen to 11% of our GDP for 2011, and the projections for costs soaring to $1.5 billion in 2020 are staggering and should galvanize action now.

In addition, we have an ageing population with spiralling health care costs, an obese population with an excessive rate of diabetes and an increasing number of uninsured Bermudians. There are continuing medical advances and technologies followed by cost inflation and greater expectations for healthcare.

Mr. Speaker,

Health care improvement must start with a concerted effort to improve the basic level of fitness and health in our community. The Government has made progress in promoting fitness and health, but we need to do more; we need to change the way people live.

Significant investment in health promotion is essential to reverse trends in obesity and diabetes. We believe this investment will reap benefit in the long run. It must start with the young, with increased mandatory time in physical education at all schools and expanded mandatory nutritional education.

The National Health Plan released last year by Government highlighted the belief that health contributions in Bermuda should be linked to ability to pay. How this concept will work financially has not been explained, nor has it been explained how the healthcare system would cover “no income” individuals who are unemployed, retired, or indigent. 

Mr. Speaker,

Four years ago, the Government controversially closed the medical clinic which served people who did not have health insurance. The closure caused hardship for many seniors. This year’s Throne Speech alluded to the problem of people needing greater access to basic health care and promised to assess the situation.

Mr. Speaker,

Seniors needing basic health care don’t need an assessment, they need health care. An OBA Government would reopen the Medical Clinic. 

Seniors and others who cannot afford FutureCare or HIP need a medical clinic that is accessible, central and part of the Bermuda Hospitals complex at Point Finger Road. 

The OBA will introduce legislation to amend the Human Rights Act immediately to eliminate age discrimination.  This was a promise made in last year’s Throne Speech and again this year. There is no reason for further delay. 

We will not waste time and money on a national strategy on aging.  The problems facing seniors have been known for years.  Seniors have suffered long enough under Government's refusal to act on seniors’ problems.

The OBA will legislate changes to FutureCare and HIP to make them fair, affordable and sustainable.  Fees for FutureCare will be the same for all clients and all will receive the same benefits. A health insurance plan will be created that will not bankrupt the country.

Up-front payments for medical treatment will be addressed for doctors, dentists and specialists.  We will ensure they are reimbursed in a timely fashion so that up-front fees are not necessary. Health insurance providers such as FutureCare and G.E.H.I. are notoriously slow in their reimbursements. We will correct this.

Government is saying it will review the eligibility criteria for Financial Assistance for seniors owning their own home. We will legislate this immediately.

 

Mr. Speaker,

We will address the neglect and abuse of seniors in some Homes and have legislation to bring Residential Care Homes in line with best practices.

Mr. Speaker,

Bermuda’s tourism industry has been in a crisis of decline for many years. Strong, decisive action is needed to re-build, re-position and re-introduce the product.

We were encouraged last year when the Government brought together a good selection of people to take a bold, fresh look at what is needed to resurrect this once-great industry.

But the Board failed to move with urgency. Just last month, Tourism issued a Request for Proposal asking eligible professionals to produce a strategic plan for the Island.

No one can say when this plan will be completed, let alone implemented. In the meantime, the Government has introduced stop-gap measures to address what it says are the industry’s “immediate needs”. Some have merit such as incentives to showcase Bermudian entertainers while others, such as the proposed “scheme to convert cruise visitors to air visitors”, leave us wondering what is meant.

Mr. Speaker,

The long and the short of the situation is that 2011 has been a lost year for the tourism industry. There has been no direction and no meaningful marketing presence.

Two items in recent months underscored our concerns the Government has been asleep at the wheel.

The first was the outgoing head of the Southampton Princess Hotel urging Bermudians to tell people where Bermuda is, which we took to be a backhanded comment on Bermuda’s weak presence in the marketplace.

The second was Carnival Cruise Lines’ decision just a few weeks ago to all but quit Bermuda. That Carnival did not even have a contract with Bermuda is mind-boggling. 

This weeks’ news that Holland America’s Veendam will cancel regular visits to Bermuda next year has plunged our cruise business into shocking, sudden crisis; one that without quick corrective action will severely damage local business and government earnings.  

Mr. Speaker, the situation underlines once again the need for a Tourism Authority.

Bermuda needs professional leadership that is responsible for setting clear strategic directives, targeting proven markets and mobilizing the resources to drive up air visitor numbers. Above all, we need to be able to hold people to account for their performance.

This is what a Tourism Authority is all about – professional, results-oriented, accountable leadership. It’s about finally putting Bermuda first, ahead of egos, ahead of party, ahead of political pride.

Mr. Speaker, a One Bermuda Alliance Government would move with urgency to set up a Tourism Authority with the goal of turning our tourism industry into a growing industry.

On a final note, the “new tourism brand” the Government says it intends to launch must reflect the Island’s unique character and qualities. It is our view that Bermuda’s special attributes – from St. George’s World Heritage site, to our architecture and terrain, to our people – have not been adequately reflected in the image we project to the world. We must sell what makes us different. We have significant competitive advantages and we have not capitalized on them.

Mr. Speaker,

The Government has a poor record protecting Bermuda’s environment. Indeed, just this week, we learned of two instances where a Minister overrode zoning protections to allow two colleagues to develop land.

As we’ve said before, it is very important that Government lead by example. But the example set this week is abuse of ministerial power, disregard for Bermuda’s development plan and favouritism. This is precisely the kind of business-as-usual behaviour that must come to an end.

Mr. Speaker,

Few environmental initiatives have ever made it off the pages of the Government’s Throne Speeches. Year after year, its ministers have promised new and dramatic action to protect Bermuda’s fragile environment.  They promised, for example, to introduce bottle deposits, reinvigorate the culture of citrus in Bermuda, support the farming and fishing industries and to establish more mangrove protection areas. They promised action on a water supply master plan, bans on balloons, plastic bags, plastic bottles and illegal dumping.

Whatever the reason, none of these Throne Speech promises have ever seen the light of day.

All over the world, people have a new and urgent focus on environmental matters.  Bermuda’s ecology is more sensitive to damage than the ecologies of almost all other nations in the world, and a Government that fails to take its responsibilities in this area seriously is playing with fire.

We in the One Bermuda Alliance have thought carefully about what must be done in the area of Bermuda’s environment, and have developed a large number of ideas, some of them old, some of them new, which go towards our goal of creating an eco-friendly Government and, ultimately, an eco-friendly Island.

We have a goal to produce 20% of our required energy from renewable sources by 2026. We have plans to expand and upgrade our parks, provide concessions to businesses and individuals committing to “green” solutions to our problems, and develop and support the Agricultural and Fishing industries. 

Mr. Speaker,

An OBA Government would replace the sheds at Marsh Folly that currently serve as our shelter for the homeless with a facility to properly serve those in need.  It is time we treated the needy with decency and respect.

Mr. Speaker,

Growing up I was taught that my success was based upon hard work and good character. At the same time, I was taunted with the fact that life was not an even playing field for black boys and black girls. I was told to ‘keep quiet’, ‘don’t rock the boat’ and ‘everything will be alright.’

Despite what many people want to believe, history shows that racism has been responsible for more sickness, death, poverty and crime than any other single injustice. It is responsible for polarizing people in defensive positions and blind loyalties.

Black people have worked hard and developed good character, yet there remains a disparity in the quality of life between white people and non-white people. After much talk and some walk we still have a long way to go.

While growing up, I was disturbed by the glaring economic disparity between blacks and whites.  Looking at the Bermuda skyline you could not name a handful of great buildings owned by black men in a country with a majority black population. I felt uneasy walking in certain neighbourhoods that were known to be for whites only, and was fearful I would be told to leave.  I was apprehensive entering banks for loans, fearing white men would deny me because of my skin colour.  I knew many others felt this way but were smiling through the storms.

Stories of strong black men who had their mortgages pulled were not uncommon. There were black and white people of goodwill who were threatened because they spoke out about racism. There are many unsung heroes who are still alive and others who went to their graves with battle scars because they spoke out about injustices that were blatant in Bermuda. The legacy of racism is the root cause of many of the social ills and the dysfunction we are grappling with today, and unless this is understood we cannot move forward together.

There have been many who have tiptoed around the issue of race in the political arena and it has hurt their public credibility and, I’m sure, the integrity of their souls. I cannot follow that route. I have my dignity to maintain and my ancestors to respect. Others seeking a platform in our country have been genuinely ignorant about the way white supremacy has imposed injustice and how it still works to maintain the status quo. I am not such a one, for he who feels it knows it. Yet I refuse to use race as a tool to manipulate black people and exploit their fears. It is not enough to simply use race for talk without delivering justice. Hatred of any person serves no constructive purpose. Yet it is completely constructive to oppose injustice in all areas of our society, black and white.

Success is still built on hard work and character. Denial, defensiveness and deception will never substitute for these. The truth is we have not done the hard work when it comes to race because walking is always harder than talking.  We need to be honest about the loss of moral and social values that are the basis of true development. We can’t ignore the state of the black family and we must take personal responsibility for stopping the madness with our youth. We can’t turn a blind eye to the plight of the poor or ignore the ploys of the powerful. 

There are many institutions and businesses that make life difficult for black Bermudians who want to come home and participate. There are many stories of construction workers who can do a good job and want to work, but they are the last hired and the first fired. We must address racism and the dysfunction from racism on both sides. We need to genuinely champion justice. We need a transparent commitment for equality. We need to tell the truth.

Mr. Speaker,

There are black people and white people of goodwill who see racism as the evil that it is and who seek to dismantle it wherever they find it.  This should be the work of all citizens of our country, especially those to whom much has been given. Those who need the most help should get it. It is unfair that the elderly black woman who was denied education and economic opportunity should be refused quality healthcare. She is a victim of a system that set her up and let her down.  At the same time, it is morally wrong to deny equal access to those who are competitive and have something to offer simply because they are white people.

We should all have a chance to make the most of our God given gifts no matter what colour we are. The vulnerable and the damaged should be protected. This is true justice. This is the work of a good government, and this will be the approach of a One Bermuda Alliance Government.

Mr. Speaker,

The people of Bermuda are looking, quite simply, for a break.  They are looking for better government than the one they’ve had for the last few years.

Today, I have spoken at length about the challenges we face as a people, in our schools, in the workplace and in communities gripped by violence. They are generally viewed separately, but we believe they are connected and that solutions in one area can contribute to solutions in another.

It begins for us with education. The better we teach our children, the better we prepare them to participate as law-abiding citizens embarked on productive, fulfilling lives. The more we support their lives, the less they will give in to crime, the less we lose to incarceration, the more we gain in safe and nurturing communities. The more we build and maintain a strong economy, the better we’ll equip fathers and mothers to raise healthy families. The more we work together, the stronger we will be. The more we build a just and fair society, the freer we will be to realize the boundless potential this Island possesses.

What people need, as much as anything else, is hope.  They need to know that together we can fix the problems that Bermuda faces.

That will be our challenge going forward, giving the people of Bermuda reason to believe a better future awaits them.

But to get there, they will need to embrace change – change in the way we work with each other, change in the way we go about our business as a country and change to a government that is more about the future than the past.

Together we can do it.

Thank you Mr. Speaker and God bless Bermuda.