Bermuda’s Premier Craig Cannonier promised “big changes” from the first new government in 14 years. Cannonier’s One Bermuda Alliance defeated the ruling Progressive Labour Party at the general elections in December, winning 19 of 36 seats. Former Premier Paula Cox lost her seat.
Jobs and the economy will be the priority for the government, according to newly elected Premier Craig Cannonier. And the leader of the first OBA government made good on the pre-election pledge to cut ministerial salaries by 10 per cent.
The primary focus is to get the economy growing again, create the conditions for new jobs and opportunity, create conditions to help people meet their daily needs and to ease the pressures that they face, Cannonier said. “The work ahead will not be easy, but we will get the job done.”
Cannonier has assembled a mixture of experience and new faces from different backgrounds to offer what he called a public service government. “Another important goal for the government is to close the gap that has grown between government and the people,” he said.
In keeping with this plan, the new Cabinet Ministers have taken an immediate 10 per cent pay cut.
“The people of this country are going through very tough times and it is essential they know that their elected representatives are with them. We cannot expect Bermudians to tighten their belts without their leaders doing the same. Sacrifices must be shared,” Cannonier said.
Speaking as his new 12-strong Cabinet team was sworn in by Governor George Fergusson at Government House, Cannonier said a pre-election pledge to invite a member of the PLP to join the new Cabinet had been rejected by the PLP citing a party position.
Among the team spearheading the fight out of recession will be new Finance Minister Bob Richards, who pledged 2,000 new jobs within five years. He will be backed by Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons, together with Tourism and Transport Minister Shawn Crockwell, Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy and new Education Minister, Senator Nalton Brangman.
“There has already been a surge of confidence and we have had offers of assistance from all kinds of people in all walks of life, from ordinary people to business tycoons. People want to help because we are committed to doing this and a lot of people want to help us do it,” Richards said.
“The things we outlined in our platform are not pipe dreams, they are real. Our first job is to establish a base line for us, find out what the actuality is and what’s really going on in government finances. Once we find that out, we can use it as a base line for our objectives and we will be reporting to the Bermuda public when we get an idea of what that business plan is and what the state of the island’s finances are,” Richards said.
Gibbons, a former shadow Education Minister who also served as Minister of Finance in the last UBP government, said he would be working with the crucial international business sector to create new opportunities for Bermudians.
“The priority now is international business — to work with them to make sure they feel as welcome as possible, that we understand their needs as job creators and stem what I would call a haemorrhage of jobs, finding new areas of diversification and making them feel as welcome as possible,” he said.
“Many Bermudians are employed in international business — we need to make the jobs we have secure and find new jobs. It’s all about people — jobs and employment and getting Bermuda back on track economically again.”
Gibbons said he would work with Sen. Brangman to ensure that Bermudians had the educational tools to work with, while there was “a great deal of synergy between international business and tourism”.
New Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy, whose role includes immigration and labour relations, said: “There is lots we need to do about immigration — we talked about suspension of term limits for two years until we find something which works better to encourage people to come to Bermuda.
“We need to balance that with making sure that Bermudians and their positions are protected and that they are given every opportunity possible in the workplace.”
He added that he would be extending an olive branch to trades unions, including the pro-PLP BIU and its leader Chris Furbert. “I’m going to be reaching out to Mr Furbert, sitting down with him and hearing their concerns and sharing our ideas for economic growth.”
He added he would also be speaking to the white collar BPSU, to reassure them that cuts to the civil service would only come through attrition and recruitment freezes “so jobs are protected”.
“We have a lot of work to do and trust to build and we are confident we can do that,” Fahy said.
Raymond Hainey is a senior reporter with the Bermuda Sun. This article is reprinted with his permission.