55th Annual General Conference
Theme: We’re All in This Together
Opening Speech by Party Leader E. David Burt, JP, MP
Thank you Dahji for that kind introduction.
To the delegates, party executive, parliamentarians, members, supporters of the Bermuda
Progressive Labour Party, and to the people of Bermuda - Good Evening. I hope you have enjoyed
the opening night of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party’s Annual Conference.
I would like to thank the Secretary-General, Ms. David Morris, JP, and her committee for doing a great
job of organizing tonight's event. Thanks to all of the performers, Deputy Premier Walter Roban,
Minister of Public Works David Burch, MP Jason Wade, and to our host for this evening MP Crystal
I start this speech mindful that the last time I spoke at an Annual Conference for our beloved
Progressive Labour Party, it was in October of 2019 to a large crowd in a church hall, with not a mask
in sight. Tonight I address you and the country virtually, as our reality has changed.
Before I begin my formal remarks, I wished to make short mention of our fight against the Covid-19
Although lately, the focus has been on the economic consequences of Covid-19, there has been a
masterful performance by Public Officers that requires special attention. It is one of those facts that
everybody saw, but nobody looked at, and as Leader of the governing party, it is my proud duty to
ensure proper recognition is given.
They have been at this for a year, and our Health Officers have never wavered, never failed us, and
must be some of the most dedicated Public Officers in the World.
They did what was needed, and with the discipline and cooperation of Bermudians, our Health
Officers were able to get a handle on the outbreaks and our healthcare system did not get
And to those Health Officers - under the able leadership of our Minister of Health, the Honorable Kim
Wilson - on behalf of the PLP, I humbly offer my deepest appreciation and gratitude for your selfless
commitment to our people throughout 2020 but especially in December. Our nurses, lab technicians,
contact tracers, doctors, paramedics, first responders and those of the front lines - there is only pride
in the Bermudians who stepped up and ensured Bermuda’s Covid-19 response was noticed around
Last year at this time felt like a completely different world. We were living our lives as normal. No
masks. No social distancing. Our schools were open. We were praying in our churches. We were
eating at restaurants, socializing at bars, and attending concerts. We were enjoying time with our
families and friends without restriction.
On the government side, we were nearing a balanced budget. While there were continued struggles
related to the cost of living, education reform, and health reform and a fundamentally unequal society,
we were making progress toward building a fairer Bermuda for all.
Then, the virus changed everything. Our children have adapted to remote-learning and periodic
shuttering of in-person learning with little warning. Our tourism industry was effectively shut down for
long periods, and the country learned just how bad the airport deal is because of the minimum
revenue guarantees that we inherited. Lots of jobs were lost. Hours were cut. And, everyone had to
take an economic hit - in the private sector, public sector, quangos, MPs and Ministers. In our
individual households, just as with the Government, belt-tightening was a means of survival. And
yes, the country had to take on additional debt to provide benefits to our residents to ensure that
Bermudians were able to survive during these unprecedented times.
Despite these challenges, I’m incredibly proud to say that on October 1st, the people looked at the
options and decided to give our party an overwhelming mandate to see Bermuda through the coming
To our activists, volunteers, candidates and to everyone who supported us, THANK YOU for giving us
the biggest electoral mandate in Bermuda’s history.
As you have seen since the election, we have not stopped working for Bermuda. The members of the
Progressive Labour Party have joined many community organizations in answering the call of service
during this Pandemic. Many of our branches, up-and-down this island, have delivered thousands of
meals to persons in need. We have checked in on our seniors who may not be connected to the
internet to ensure they were getting the support needed, and we have continued to serve after the
That is the true essence of the Bermuda Progressive Labour Party. We have always been more than
just a political party, but an organization deeply rooted in the community with members committed to
being servant leaders.
That same servant leadership is what you can expect from this party in government as we engage in
the task of executing our mission to rebuild Bermuda with Bermudians at heart.
And though there is still much more work to do as a party we should be proud of the progress that we
have made on a number of fronts:
In our first 3 years the PLP invested a cumulative $22 million more in public education than the
We have invested in scholarships, apprenticeships, training, and the Bermuda College, with hundreds
of Bermudians upgrading their skills, earning degrees and certifications, being prepared for the jobs
of the future. No Bermudian in this country is denied further education and training due to a lack of
Workers making $48,000 have seen their payroll tax bill slashed by 58% since we took office - yes
58%! - and we kept our promise to start making our tax system fairer by ensuring that dividend
payments are taxed for the first time ever.
We have strengthened the Employment Act, enshrined protections against workplace harassment,
including sexual harassment, and - true to our labour roots - modernised our labor laws
We have started the process of health care reform by ensuring that money paid for health insurance
goes to support our hospital and cannot be diverted to private company profits.
We have tackled the diversification of our economy and we see real progress with the creation of jobs
in Fintech and the continued diversification of our insurance sector.
We have tackled international challenges to our financial services sector, and we have seen
international business remain on our shores with new companies coming to provide more jobs for
We have put Bermudians first by introducing work permit moratoriums on 40 additional job categories
(in addition to the 12 in place previously) to ensure that Bermudians affected by the pandemic can
find work in their own country.
And, we have begun to tackle the painful cost of living by strictly regulating energy which has seen
the first cost reduction in core energy prices in memory. Yes that is right, energy prices went down,
and the government is committed to continuing its work to further drive down the cost of living in
And this is why our promise to “Rebuild Bermuda with Bermudians at Heart” touched so many people.
The people saw the work that we had accomplished and the people trusted the PLP to rebuild our
economy in a fair and balanced way.
Make no mistake, the challenge is enormous, but we can harness the collective talent and energy of
our People and Country to transform Bermuda
The pandemic has changed all of us, and the change that it has instilled within me is that I am more
determined than ever to press ahead with our agenda. I will ensure that this party delivers on our
mandate of transformation - which is necessary for my children, for your children, for our children to
have a future in Bermuda.
Why must we be transformational?
Because we cannot continue to ignore the demographic challenges facing Bermuda and pretend as
though they will somehow resolve themselves - they won’t.
Because we cannot continue to hold onto old and outdated school buildings as an excuse to delay
much needed public education reform after consultation.
Because we cannot continue to defend a health care system that doesn’t work for our country and
leaves thousands unable to access care.
And because we cannot continue to pretend that we will fix our country without fixing the primary
driver of economic inequality, which is at the root of most of our problems - our unfair system of
This Party will lead the reform of our system of taxation to one that is fairer and yes, one that may
contain taxes on incomes. In a globalized society where the world is changing, for our economy to be
sustainable, we must have those conversations that we were not comfortable having before. When
the leader of the One Bermuda Alliance joins the Leader of the Bermuda Progressive Labor Party in
supporting the Fiscal Responsibility Panel’s recommendation for a tax on incomes, then clearly we
are past talking about whether or not it is time. It is now time to work together to implement overdue
changes in a fair and balanced fashion.
We must also acknowledge that an essential benefit of changing our system of taxation is to deal with
the most pressing issue in Bermuda, the cost of living and the cost of doing business. The main taxes
that Bermuda uses to collect revenue: customs duties, payroll taxes and taxes on fuel, increase the
cost of living & the cost of doing business.
A fairer tax system can help us reduce our cost of living, which in turn will boost economic growth,
and that is why it is essential that it be advanced.
As we move forward with tax reform, expect fear-mongering and alarmism from the entrenched
wealth in this country who benefit most from the existing system. We saw it recently when I made a
comment about tax reform and simply pointed out that those who own dozens of rental properties pay
no tax on any income from those properties. This was spun to say that I want to tax all rentals -
including those small renters who may rent one or two apartments. This is NOT the case and a
correction was made after the paper was printed. But, the damage was done and they successfully
sowed seeds of doubt about our intentions.
At the same time, the enemies of change strangely manifest themselves in those who are most likely
to benefit from the change they oppose. Bermudians with little to no access to inter-generational
wealth are often the loudest opponents to reforms that are meant to provide relief to the oppressive
inequality that is the biggest challenge to Bermuda’s collective progress.
Strangely, the most ardent public defenders of the current taxation system are often those who are
worse off under it. Our current system sees those with lower incomes paying a higher percentage of
their income in taxes, than those who may own multiple businesses & properties with sources of
unearned wealth. This imbalance exacerbates inter-generational inequality and hinders economic
This does not mean that we should punish success, but it does mean that just like every other country
in the world who has established fair systems of taxation - we must recognize that the impact of
income inequality, which is at the core of Bermuda’s problems, will not be solved if structures that
exacerbate inequality are left in place.
I look forward to the work of the new Tax Reform Commission and I welcome the Opposition Leader’s
endorsement of the need to have a fundamental change to our system of taxation. I know the
changes that our Minister of Finance, the Hon Curtis Dickinson, will implement will be fair, will
balance the needs of international business and local business, and will ensure the sustainability of
Moving to healthcare, we can recall our work in 2019 towards health care reform. Although it did not
tackle the complete health care system, it only dealt with the financing of health care. What was
interesting to watch was those persons whose families would benefit most from lower health care
costs - were the ones on the front line defending those who benefit most from the existing system -
those persons whose profits are driven by unequal access to healthcare that exists in Bermuda. This
time around our change will not be piecemeal, we will tackle both the financing and delivery of
healthcare - as we are determined as a party that what we have now is not sustainable - and we have
the courage to fix it. We are committed to reforming Healthcare to establish a unified system to
ensure all persons have access to quality health care.
Public education reform is also vital to ensure that our country is sustainable. I applaud the work of
the Minister of Education, his team and the countless volunteers who answered the call to join in this
transformative effort. Our reforms will ensure that we prepare leaders for the future recognizing that
many different types of students learn differently and for our future success we must be able to
harness the collective talents of all of our individual citizens.
Earlier, I said that our demographic changes will not magically resolve themselves. Immigration policy
is controversial but economic reality should not be controversial. In a modern and globalized
economy, where people do not need to live in Bermuda to work for Bermuda companies; and with an
aging populace, we cannot fix the burning issues of higher taxes and high cost of living without
increasing the amount of people that live and work in Bermuda.
This does not mean that all persons need to be imported, if we do our job to make Bermuda more
fair, there are Bermudians that will return. However it is vital that we shift from the false choice of: ‘is
population growth good or bad’, to a mindset of: ‘Growth is essential - and if we are going to have it,
how do we ensure that growth benefits Bermudians who have been left behind.’
The other side to the economic argument of immigration policy is the desperate need for small
business to survive and to thrive. Every small business owner wants more customers to whom they
can sell their goods or services - every entrepreneur wants a better opportunity to grow sales. If the
pie isn’t bigger, and entrepreneurs are fighting over the same 60,000 customers, then there will be
little collective growth - and there will be constant competition with each other for a piece of the same
But what if there were 70,000 or 80,000 customers to battle for? That leads to more opportunity for
entrepreneurship, more opportunity for growth, and more opportunity for wealth creation as the pie is
bigger and everyone can earn more.
Immigration policy reform doesn’t have to be couched in yesterday’s terms. In 2019 when I addressed
the opening of the conference, I spoke on this matter extensively. In 2021, post-pandemic - it is up to
us to redefine the debate. It is not a question of good or bad, but a question of how do we ensure that
our policies benefit Bermudians who have been left behind and ensure that Bermudians are in a
position to benefit from economic growth.
For example, Economic Investment Certificates, which were in our 2020 Throne Speech, takes an
existing policy of residential certificates and marries it with our socio-economic ethos. Simply put it
says that persons who wish to reside in Bermuda must make investments that benefit our
Bermudians either through support for education, sporting clubs, the Bermuda Trust fund, real estate
or other vital investments that the country needs. Residential Certificates exist now, and they are only
available to the wealthy, but there is currently no need for persons who have access to them to invest
That is what I mean when I say we need to stop having yesterday’s debates and start collectively
designing the future that benefits Bermudians. I am proud of the Minister of Labour, the Honourable
Jason Hayward, who has taken to revising old policies to put Bermudians first to ensure Bermudians
Bermuda - we need a change of Mindset as we approach the next 5 years. The inequality exposed by
the pandemic has created an uncomfortable ground for persons whose mantra has never been to put
people first. The demands of economic recovery are an affront to guardians of the status quo
because “change” is no longer a campaign slogan but it is the key to survival.
This Progressive Labour Party is an institution born out of struggle and a thirst for justice and equality.
Our history and our core values mean that we are ideally suited to meet the challenges of this current
age. We are a people-first Party and so a Platform, a Throne Speech and a Budget that put people
first come naturally.
The question for us is: Are we truly committed to change?
55th Annual General Conference Theme: We’re All in This Together
Opening Speech by Party Leader E. David Burt, JP, MP
The business of government is what every set of leaders inherits in this system. We meet rules,
regulations, processes and red-tape at the front door, and before we know it, an agenda for change
has its wings clipped by a system designed to make haste slowly.
But the question remains: Are we committed to change?
Do we believe that things should change or are we content fighting the battles of 30, 40 or 50 years
ago? Some of us seem to believe that unless we’re at war with someone, there’s no reason to live.
So rather than help, we tear down; rather than refine we kill something before it has the chance to
breathe; rather than join the push for change, we flex and try to block something just to prove a point.
So for those who profess to be friends and claim to be partners in our cause, let me say this: I am
crystal clear what you are against, but does your opposition extend to outlining what you can
support? That is what governing is about……we do more than oppose…..we have a duty and a
responsibility to be constructive, help advance the agenda we all agreed to, and make each other
better. Being a member of the Committee Against Everything is easy; try getting something
affirmative done as an alternative, and you will see just how difficult that is.
Let me be clear, criticism is good; it is healthy, and it is necessary. Well-founded criticism keeps us on
course, refreshes our moral compass and provides a guide for the work we are charged with doing. In
leadership, listening and being reminded of the mission is a sure way to keep focused on all that must
be done. I welcome it, I encourage our members of caucus to welcome it too and to learn from it.
The interesting thing about change is that it is seldom achieved by one individual. Change requires
leaders to commit and execute but it also requires others to change too. So I am prepared to accept
that the pace of change is too slow and that much of that is down to our lack of success in tackling
the systems that were never designed for us, or for our ideas to succeed.
However, our mindset cannot solely be tied to a time that no longer exists. We have laws in our
country that predate our political party, we have policies in this country that predate the building from
where I speak to you tonight, yet the mere talk of change to edicts from a bygone era often elicits a
reflective response of no, no, no.
We must learn to adapt to change, and Bermuda, we must change in order to survive If we do not
change and adapt to the post-pandemic world in which we now exist, then we will not live up to our
promise as a country.
This is what I am committed to as leader of the Progressive Labour Party; this is our job and our
mission - it is the core of our election slogan - rebuilding Bermuda with Bermudians at heart.
Yes, the cause is ambitious, but I believe that we are called for such a time as this. Let us look at how
this country has managed, through our own ingenuity, to work together as a community. We have
been able to succeed in this pandemic in ways that so many other countries larger than us, richer
than us, with more resources than us have failed.
If there is anything that this pandemic has taught us, it should give us confidence in ourselves to be
the master of our own destiny. It should show and demonstrate to us how powerful of a country we
can be when we are fully committed to working together to advance our mutual interests. Whether
international business or local business; Trade union or Chamber of Commerce; PLP or OBA; Black
or White - we were able to work together towards a common good.
Right now with the difficult road ahead that this country is facing, nothing can be more important than
a collective embodiment of unity and the will to persevere. The challenges are steep, but as the last
year has proved - if we work together as a nation we can overcome.
But family we will not overcome by clinging to the past, we will not overcome by talking about the
good old days, we will not overcome by looking backwards and saying we can't change the way that
we’ve always been doing things. In many ways the world has passed Bermuda by, and this party
under my leadership with our new mandate, will drive Bermuda to not only catch up, but to excel.
We will use this parliamentary majority to execute on the plans and vision that were laid out in our
platform, supported by the vast majority of the voters who endorsed our plan to rebuild Bermuda with
Bermudians at heart.
But this government will not just be a government for the supporters of the Bermuda Progressive
Labor Party, because to move toward nationhood we must have unity and a sense of purpose that
That does not mean that this party will compromise our ideals, that does not mean that we will
abandon our central tenets of social & economic justice. For our country to progress as a nation we
have to have unity. That unity will not come from pretending that there are not divisions that exist in
our society. That unity will not come from brushing under the carpet the painful scars of racism and
discrimination that still exist in our community today. That unity will only come from the collective
work to dismantle that painful history and to finally tackle entrenched economic inequality in Bermuda.
We are committed to that change and I am committed to putting every ounce of effort into the work of
driving that change. I promise you it will not be easy - and I promise you that at some point you will
push back against us and say no this is too much change; but Bermuda - transformation is necessary
and must happen to ensure we survive as a country.
I stand before you today as the leader of this party and also as the leader of this country which has
not yet written its next chapter. I pledge to you today that we will be committed to ensuring that we
focus relentlessly on execution. Our caucus held a retreat this past weekend and that was our focus -
strategizing how we can work better together, all collectively playing our part, to ensure faster
execution of our election platform.
Bermuda - If you want to be a part of this journey, this journey of transformation - then I urge you to
get involved. Join the Progressive Labour Party at www.plp.bm , apply to join a government board at
www.gov.bm, or make your voice heard by participating in consultation exercises as we work to
transform this country.
If you feel in your heart that we need to step it up in Bermuda, I need you to take it to heart and be
part of the citizen army that will build the future.
Yes I know that it is easy to argue, yes I know that it is easy to criticize, yes I know that the
hyperconnected nature of social media makes us seem as though we are more divided than we really
are. But at the end of the day the only people that are looking out for Bermuda are us Bermudians.
We are the ones that are here and we are the only ones who can work together to change our
For those who supported us at the polls, and to those who still vehemently oppose us on the blogs,
The Progressive Labour Party has formed the Government of Bermuda due to the result of a fair and
democratic election - and our success in office will be Bermuda’s collective success.
As Barack Obama once said, “The future rewards those who press on.” That, Bermuda, is what we
must do right now. Press on, persevere and take care of each other. Let’s strive toward that future
and, working together, we will succeed in rebuilding Bermuda with Bermudians at heart.