By Party Leader E. David Burt, JP, MP
Good Evening Members, Supporters, Family and Friends. Many have said it before, but welcome!
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to say a few words of thank you.
Good Evening Members, Supporters, Family and Friends. Many have said it before, but welcome!
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to say a few words of thank you.
Special thanks to the outgoing executive and my good friend Owen Darrell who has served this party faithfully as its Chairman. I am especially thankful for his dedication, friendship, and loyalty. He cares deeply for the ideals of the PLP and I want to ensure that he is recognised tonight for all of his hard work.
There is one member of the executive that deserves my gratitude, and that is the Deputy Leader Walter Roban. I remembered when I joined the party, it was he that took me under his wing. We worked on campaigns together, discussed politics, and when I was elected chairman in 2006 he freely gave his counsel. 12 years later, he still freely gives his counsel and I am proud to call him a friend. For the time I have led this party, whether it was party related or government related, I’ve never had to ask twice for him to stand in for me so I can spend time with Nia and Ed.
To the rest of the PLP’s parliamentary team, thank you! It is an Honour to earn your trust to continue in this job for the next 4 years. I must also thank the Parliamentary Whip Mr. Lawrence Scott, for making sure that we don’t lose votes in the house – as with our majority that would be embarrassing.
Finally, I must thank my family, my mother, father, and my sister, who are always there to help out when Kristin and I need it.
Speaking of Kristin, I am so lucky to be married to this woman, and please everyone please show your appreciation to the person who sacrifices the most so that I can serve this party – the first lady of the PLP, Kristin Burt. Some of our youngest PLP Members are here tonight as well – Hi Nia & Ed.
OK, now it’s time to get to business. My job today is to open our conference, and I think it’s also important for me to speak on where we came from, where we are, and where we must go, what is standing in our way, and how we will achieve our mission together. I warn you now, this is not a short speech.
The Next Chapter
The Title of this conference is “Building a Better and Fairer Bermuda: the Next Chapter”. Our Delegates conference is important, not only because it decides the leadership of the PLP, but it is the supreme body of our Party. The PLP is a grass roots party, ideas like FutureCare – came from our delegates.
Family, who will write the next chapter for Bermuda? In our long history, Bermuda's story has been written by many groups: The British, The Americans, A few privileged families, hoteliers, businessmen, and a number of governments.
But in each case, the people of Bermuda have just been pulled along for the ride, always being told to stay in their place in case they upset the programme of whoever happens to be writing the story at that time. I say that it is time for the people to write the next chapter and this is the Party to deliver on that promise.
This is the Party of Freddie and Lois; the Party of Walter Robinson and Mose Allen; the Party of Eugene Cox and Ira Philip; and as we stand on their shoulders we have a duty to make the next chapter one that would make them proud.
The next chapter has to be one founded in the Party's commitment to social justice and equity, not just equality – but equity. Our core values speak to lifting people up and making this society one in which every Bermudian has an opportunity to live and succeed. Make no mistake, this country was founded on inequality and so changing the system will not be easy. It means that we must be bold; we must have courage and we must support the vision that is determined to bring true equity to this country.
You heard me talk about core values, and that is a key point. It is key because solutions posed in 1989 may not fix 2018’s problems. Bermuda may not have changed that much, but the world has. That means our solutions to fix Bermuda’s problems must be framed in the world today, so that means we have to think not of the past, but of the future.
The PLP has a great history, but as we celebrate 20 years since a date with destiny, we must remember that there are voters who know nothing about a date with destiny in 1998, because they were not born. It is important that we ensure that our core values are matched with polices that resonate and are relevant to a new generation of voters who are anxious about their future in Bermuda.
Where We Are
Family, that new generation of voters is anxious because our little island is not well. We are not in good shape, and we haven’t been for some time. 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.
In 4 ½ years the OBA doubled our debt, 2000 jobs were lost. Public services from busses, 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 7% to 3.5% 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.
Over the next 4 years we 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.
Where we must go as a Party
Speaking of the Future, family 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.
Making Immigration Work in a Virtual World
There is a lot of talk recently about immigration. The fact is that in 2018 where the world is virtual and jobs are mobile, it is important to realise that we may need to take a different approach to immigration than we did in 1956 when the immigration act was written; well before colour TVs, mobile phones, or the internet.
Immigration is always an emotional topic, however there are some facts that cannot be disputed. From the last census report, it is clear the income inequality is getting worse. Black people continue to make less than their white counterparts, and Bermudians make less than their Non-Bermudian co-workers. The violence we see playing out in our streets has its genesis in the inequality & inequity that defines modern Bermuda.
Business must realise that Bermudians have legitimate expectations of advancing up the corporate ladder. Part of the disparity is that Bermudians, particularly black Bermudians, do not advance. Some companies are making efforts to change this trend, and I commend them - but the calls for diversity cannot be real without understanding that our model which all too often sees labour getting imported, getting promoted, and often times leaving Bermudians behind.
What we must do is move from a one size fits all model of immigration, to a model where good corporate citizens who hire, train and promote Bermudians, are rewarded with a more streamlined process for immigration; while those who do not are subject to additional scrutiny. We must give companies an incentive to “Act Right”.
While I am talking about immigration, let me clear up something. We keep hearing from the some in our community that we need more immigration. If you drop 2000 people on Front Street, where are they going to work? What Bermuda needs is more jobs, and that is what the PLP is focused on delivering, more jobs.
When we talk about our roots, it is impossible to do so without talking about labour. The Progressive Labour Party was born from the labour movement and will forever be inextricably linked to labour. However just as the PLP must modernise, so must our union partners. In the same way we want better from employers we must be comfortable expecting excellence and accountability from our members.
That’s why we’re proud to work with the unions to strengthen and expand the services offered by the credit union, but we will also be proud to work with our union partners as we work to ensure that employers have more flexibility and their members have greater accountability in a world that is rapidly changing due to technology.
Our unions must stand up for workers, like the brothers and sisters of the ESTU did last week, but our unions must also play a part in making government, tourism, and our economy more competitive.
A more efficient economy doesn’t mean less workers. It means that workers that work smarter produce more, which increases productivity and allows for there to be more economic growth, thus creating more jobs. Working slower – unsurprisingly – slows down our economy – and makes us weaker as a country. Many don’t want to “work themselves out of job” but as you know, those who work the quickest end up getting the most work. The same applies to the country of Bermuda we will grow if we become more productive.
Part of evolution is understanding that we cannot keep saying no, when in many instances the answer may need to be yes. Family, let me give you an example of your party’s approach to fixing problems.
Right now we have those in our society who have found relief from chronic illness from the medicinal use of cannabis. Though the government has allowed doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis higher that 1% THC, there is no way to import it, as Bermuda is only allowed to legally import 1 gram of cannabis for medicinal purposes per year. That means that those who need it, cannot get it legally.
The Government can apply to the UN to raise the import limit, but our thinking is in a country that is desperate for jobs, why send money overseas to import what we can produce here. So, in 2019, in line with the pledge made in our platform, the government will begin issuing licenses for domestic medicinal cannabis production.
However, remember that photo I showed you earlier about equality, equity and justice. In this situation, justice is ensuring that those Bermudians who have been denied the opportunity to travel, been restricted in overseas education choices, and blocked from some employment, due to convictions for cannabis possession should be the first to be able to invest in any licence that the government will issue. For it will make no sense to create wealth that will only increase economic inequality for those who suffered under different policies; we must ensure equity and justice.
Tackling the Cost of Living
Let me be clear family, the cost of living is the #1 issue facing Bermudians; and we are taking active steps to tackle the cost of living problem. For 4 ½ years the OBA didn't nothing substantive health care reform. In just 15 months your PLP government is going to final consultation on our 2012 plan to which will reduce everybody’s cost of insurance. That is a promise that we made in our platform, to implement the national health plan, and we are doing just that.
Family, I must however caution you that there will be a chorus of people saying that this particular reform will not be good for the economy. I say that reducing everyone in the country’s health insurance costs - from seniors, to young people, to employers and to working families will be one of the best things that we can do for this economy. Just imagine if everyone paid $100 less per month in Health Insurance. Think of the savings for a family of 4 or the savings for employers. This change will make our economy stronger and the PLP will deliver this change.
Energy rates are too high. And we all have a role to play in reducing them. We can and we must invest in more efficient fixtures and appliances, while concurrently reducing taxes, and constraining bonuses and dividends. But we also must be honest about what the future will bring. As renewables get lower in cost and any new power generation will require less staff to operate we must ensure that we create new jobs in energy for Bermudians.
Technological displacement is not unique to power generation, many of today’s jobs will slowly become jobs of the past. It will happen across many of our sectors, and that is why we must focus our attention on building an economy that can not only survive but thrive in a future driven by technology.
Ensuring Bermudian Participation in the Economy of the Future
The next chapter means that we have to prepare our people for a future world which will change even more dramatically as technology advances. Automation and artificial intelligence will have a profound impact on our society and how we are able to sustain ourselves in the future.
That is why we must educate our young people and train those persons who are not so young so that they can play a part of the economy of the future.
Our future as an international financial centre will be best served if we are also an international FinTech centre. That is the reason why the government is making such a significant investment in building this part of our economy; and despite the nay-sayers we are making progress. As technology advances, countries that do not prepare their citizens for the evolution will be left behind; that means people will suffer. We must make sure that doesn’t happen here in Bermuda.
A Culture of Excellence
The next chapter must be about excellence. Excellence as a party, excellence as a government, and excellence as a country. We must not lower our standards, or accept less than excellence. We have to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and encourage all Bermudians to strive harder and to not settle for anything that is substandard.
Excellence must apply to the Government, as a slow and inefficient Government has negative repercussions for us all. An international business looking to relocate jobs to Bermuda is hampered by delays at immigration; just like a local business in disadvantaged when we have to wait extra-long for a truck permit to be processed or delays in the Government paying its bills.
It doesn’t matter what the interaction is, the country benefits from a more efficient government; and we will follow through with our platform commitment to reduce red tape, and make everything from getting a truck permit, a liquor license, a work permit, or registering a business easier to do.
Technology will drive efficiency in government, but just like with the cannabis example I gave earlier, there is an opportunity for us to be self-sufficient and build our own computer software.
We must produce experts in system design and programming at the Bermuda College. And we must follow through on our platform commitment to have our students to design IT applications for the government of Bermuda. Those students can be wealth creators and export our applications to the world.
Family, I know I’ve spoken for a long time, far longer that you were expecting, but I can’t end without saying a few words about the Opposition, who 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.
How we will get there
Family, when I started this speech, I said that I will end by talking about how we will get there, and it is simple Bermuda needs a sense of common purpose.
To the business community, to those who may not be natural supporters of the PLP, and to those don’t think the PLP reflects their values:
The Progressive Labour Party will be the government for at least 4 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.
For those of you here or listening online who want to play a part in what the future of the PLP and Bermuda will be, I encourage you to join our party. Join a party that has been around for 55 years and a party rooted in the core principles of equity and justice. If you want to learn more about our plans, visit our website at plp.bm and read our election platform – and I welcome you to get involved.
Family, our beloved Progressive Labour Party has the privilege and the challenge of governing this country and leading it into the future. And I have no doubt that with this team our party will meet the challenge of governance. Together, we will ensure that our party evolves to govern the Bermuda of the future, and we will ensure that through our governance, Bermuda is ready to meet the challenges of that future.
We are rooted in our history and our core principles of not settling for equality, but ensuring equity and justice. We have a clear roadmap laid out in our platform of what the next 4 years will look like. 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.
Members, in closing - Thank you! This party is nothing without you. The PLP is more than 2000 strong. We are growing, we are vibrant, we have branches helping the less fortunate, we have committees educating our citizens, we have parliamentarians who serve tirelessly, and we have members like all of you that provide the fuel for our continued efforts.
Thank You, God bless you, and may God continue to bless the PLP and Bermuda.
- Party Leader E. David Burt, JP, MP