November 2004 Archives

Maxwell Burgess, and his quick wit, receive top billing in John Barritt's View From the Hill this week.

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Just a reminder that Cory Booker will be speaking today at St Paul's Centennial Hall at 12:30PM today (Monday 29 Nov. 2004).

The topic is "The Strengths & Challenges of Diversity".

I'll be there. There will be a light lunch provided.

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Debate has begun on the Berkeley motion tabled by the UBP:

"That this Honourable House deplores the management practices by the Government of the Senior Secondary School construction project at Berkeley."

And it started off pretty lively with Ashfield De Vent trying to amend the motion, before the person introducing the motion, Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, had made her presentation. The Speaker ruled that procedures require that an amendment cannot be proposed until Ms. Gordon-Pamplin has completed her introduction.

Then, Deputy Speaker Jennifer Smith, from the chair, took issue with Ms. Gordon-Pamplin, a Berkeley graduate, referring to the project as Berkeley. Ms. Smith was saying that this project was not 'Berkeley' but the 'Second Senior Secondary School', and that as an alumnus Ms. Gordon-Pamplin shouldn't drag the school into this.

That skirmish provides an interesting insight into the psychology and sensitivity behind this debacle.

The Berkeley Institute has rightly been held in high regard in Bermuda as the premier educational institute of black Bermudians. Many, many successful black Bermudians graduated from Berkeley - quite a few who are present in large numbers in Parliament, on both sides of the House.

What's particularly revealing about the reaction when the word 'Berkeley' is spoken, is that it concedes that what has gone on is damaging to the Berkeley legacy, what the school represents historically and the values the institution instilled in its students.

This project is such an unmitigated disaster, embarassment, and example of incompetence that they understandably don't want Berkeley's reputation to suffer from it. The PLP know that if they are seen to have harmed the Berkeley name, which they have, that there could be a severe backlash.

But that's entirely their doing and their cross to bear. If the project was a success they'd all be basking in the glory and anxious to attach themselves to it, and becoming part of the Berkeley legacy.

The PLP are aware of the explosive nature of this issue, and dread the inevitable - that they will to have to explain themselves to every current, past and future Berkeley student.

That time is coming and a satisfactory explanation is becoming harder to concoct with each passing day.

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Several new legislative items were tabled this morning by the Government.

Additionally, Shadow Works & Engineering Minister Patricia Gordon-Pamplin tabled a motion for debate, (my wording) that this House deplores the lease given to the operators of the Coco Reef Hotel (former Stonington Beach Hotel).

That won't be taken up for debate for at least two weeks.

This afternoon, shortly after the House resumes from lunch at 2PM, should see debate begin on the UBP's motion deploring the PLP's management of the Berkeley construction project.

You can listen on AM 1230 after 2:00PM.

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Attached are the House Orders for Friday Nov. 26, 2004.

Finance Minister Paula Cox looks to have a busy day before her.

The first 5 (Government) items are due to be taken up as well as item 10, the UBP's motion deploring "the management practices by the Government of the Senior Secondary School construction project at Berkeley", in that order.

The last item promises to be lively.

The intensity of debate on the motion to adjourn will depend heavily on how much gas is left in the tanks after the Berkeley debate and what time it wraps up.

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Ever heard the one about the Masochist and the Sadist?

The Masochist says to the Sadist: "Hurt me."
Sadist replies: "No."

What does that have to do with anything? Read on.

Yesterday in the Senate, and last night on VSB and ZBM news, Sen. Walter Roban (PLP) was begging - I mean almost literally begging - the Opposition to argue with him on Independence? (RG has some of the Senate coverage here but it was much better on TV.)

The following is a fake transcript of an argument between Sen Roban (the Masochist) and UBP Sen. Kim Swan (the Sadist):

Sen. Roban (PLP): (Issuing challenge to UBP) "What's the UBP's position on Independence? Do you support it or not?"

Sen. Swan (UBP): Bermudians deserve no less than a referendum on the issue. One man one vote, one vote of equal value. I thought the PLP liked that concept?

Sen. Roban: "No, no, no. That's not what you're supposed to say. What is your party's position? Do you support it or not?

Sen. Swan: "The UBP supports a referendum as the mechanism to decide Independence."

Sen. Roban: (steam coming off his head) "Come on please, fight with me. You're supposed to hysterically oppose it."

Sen. Swan: (with a twinkle in his eye) "We trust the people and support allowing them to decide through the democratic means of a referendum."

Sen. Roban: (about to explode) "Please, play along with the script. We don't know what to do next. We brought it up and you're ignoring us. No-one's interested, least of all the public. We need to demonize someone? Are you for or against Independence?"

Sen. Swan: "A referendum is the only fair way."

Sen. Roban: (Storming off camera) "What's wrong with you? You don't expect us to make the case on it's merits do you? This isn't fair. I can't take this anymore."

Sen. Swan: (practicing his golf swing) "This is fun. Let's do it again next Wednesday."

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Now this is a novel political strategy. Apparently the Social Agenda was expected to drive down the Government's approval ratings!

Over the last 12 months Government has taken a tough stance on issues such as gaming, Independence, the Social Agenda, housing, crime and education, he said.

The Social Agenda was a "bold plan moving forward in the next two, three, four, five years and beyond", covering all aspects of society.

Serious consideration has also been given to Independence, he said, adding the combination is a significant amount for a comfortable, conservative society to digest. "I think the polls reflect that.

Well, they took a stance on gaming yes, but what has been done on housing, crime and education? Nothing at all, unless you think there was something in the Social Agenda - which was supposed to turn us all into card carrying PLP members. And Independence hasn't gone anywhere at all, well in Bermuda at least, Londoners appear to be particularly well informed.

How idiotic is it for the Premier to argue that he expected the Government's position on issues like housing, crime and education to decrease his approval ratings?

Cabinet thinking seems to be: "The fact that people disapprove of our performance means we're doing a good job! Keep it up guys, let's think up some more unpopular initiatives.'

Then there's this money quote:

"Bermudians are unique. We want change, but we don't want things to change."

Change isn't the problem. People are crying out for change on housing, crime and education. The problem is that things aren't changing for the better, they're getting worse.

I hope the PLP aren't paying their political advisors for this stuff!

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A few more thoughts on the topic of the polls results released yesterday by the Royal Gazette.

One thing to bear in mind is the specific nature of the questions reported on so far. The results released in yesterday's Gazette, were about approval and favourability, not how you would vote. While low approval and favourability is definitely a bad sign, it doesn't necessarily mean that the PLP have the support of only 38% of the electorate for example.

It could be more, it could be less. We can't tell from what has been reported on so far. Responses to a question such as : "If the election were held today, who would you vote for?" will not necessarily track with the approval ratings. A hard core party supporter could disapprove of the performance of the Premier but remain willing to support the party or at least not vote against it.

Party identification would be an interesting question to poll generally to see how the community sees itself:

"Would you describe yourself as UBP, PLP or independent"

as well as questions like:

"Does your impression of Alex Scott make it more of less likely that you will support the PLP at an election?"

and right/wrong direction questions along these lines:

"Is Bermuda heading in the right or wrong direction?" or "Do you approve of the direction the Government is taking us?".

These would help identify some national trends as well as get a sense of party loyalty versus issues and performance.

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A slightly warmed over corpse could pull in the same approval rating as the Premier did in the poll published in the Royal Gazette today.

The editorial is also correct in noting that politicians tend to embrace or dismiss poll results depending on the favourability of the results, so Alex Scott might try to dismiss this one. But my guess is he'll both dismiss it and invoke the defense that he previewed in his speech of Oct. 25, 2004 to the PLP Annual Delegates Conference:

"It was at this time last year that both our Poll numbers in surveys, and expectations among the Party faithful and many others in the community were high. If you regard polling numbers as a relatively reliable indicator, then this was very good news (the poll numbers) for the New PLP Government.

"However, this may not be the case tonight. We made many tough decisions this year and, probably, none impacted on our standing more than the decision to prepare the way for a broad public discussion on the issue of Independence."

'If you regard polling numbers as a relatively reliable indicator ...'. Puhlease. Don't be fooled with his attempt to dismiss or hedge on polling. The Premier is an avid poll watcher and hasn't hesitated to quote them often in interviews and speeches during his time as Premier when it suited him.

It was somewhat amusing then to see the Premier, in that same speech only 3 paragraphs later, invoke polling without the earlier qualifier:

"Polls show that a significant majority of Bermudians wish to be provided with information on the topic and BIC will be mandated to deliver that function."

Regardless, Government piggybacks political questions onto the quarterly Omnibus poll, so these results won't be a surprise. That's why it was interesting to see Scott Simmons (PLP PR Officer) so unprepared to provide his spin on the results in today's article.

Or maybe not. Remember that he savaged his own Premier with his astute but unhelpful interpretation of the last poll published in the Bermuda Sun. At least he learns from his mistakes, and no doubt headed to the Cabinet Office to be told what his interpretation is.

The implications of this poll are significant for a number of reasons:

Firstly, the Premier's approval rating has been in a precipitous decline since his unsustainably high levels after Fabian (80% was never going to last). But 37% job approval is embarrassing and quite remarkable. It took Jennifer Smith about 4 years to get there, but Scott managed it in one!

Secondly, it isn't a coincidence that the 'Social Agenda' hype appeared in mid summer after unfavourable poll results were published. The SA was no doubt an attempt to stop the free fall. As this poll was conducted from Nov. 13 - 17, after the Throne Speech and roll out of the Social Agenda, it's hard to know if his numbers were even lower and got a tiny bounce post SA, or if the public saw right through the sham and suffered even more.

RG is publishing more results on Friday so maybe that will be an element of it but I can only conclude that the Social Agenda was not received well, particularly after expectations were raised so high - that's the PLP's own fault.

Thirdly, there's little doubt that Alex Scott is under serious pressure internally and is struggling to hold his coalition together. These poll numbers will have done nothing to help. The PLP's lack of direction and lack of achievements are directly related to the fractured Cabinet assembled hastily to prevent a deadlock. The Premier's already weak position has just taken another hit and opened the door for those who covet the big prize. GP2 will be looking a lot closer in GP1's rear view mirror today.

I'll have more to say on this over the next few days as there is a lot to cover here, but at a high level Alex Scott and his party are in serious trouble - and it's entirely self-inflicted.

The Social Agenda clearly did nothing to stop the bleeding and it wouldn't be a surprise if the long knives* are again being sharpened.

* shortly after being installed as Premier Alex Scott traveled to London and said on the evening news that he reminded the UK Labour Party MPs that he wasn't the one with the 'long knife'.

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RG Opinion (Nov. 24, 2004)

(Note: I apologize for the two typos in today's RG article, both entirely my fault. The first is that '2005' should read '2004' and 'partying Progressive Labour Partying' should have read 'Progressive Labour Partying'. The changes have been made in this version.)

(Another Note: Monday night was a bad one for my proof-reading. I've found two more errors which have also been corrected. No prizes for spotting them yourself.)

Of power & perks or people, policy & principle?

What is it about joining the PLP Cabinet that causes MPs to become ineffective and uncreative? Maybe Works & Engineering should check the water, or the air quality. Perhaps the Governor is casting a debilitating spell over Ministers when he swears them in. Or maybe Dr. Brown has taken those ‘PLP Surgeries’ a little too far and is performing lobotomies on his colleagues.

There can be little doubt that entering the PLP Cabinet coincides with a sudden halt in critical thinking and productivity, look no further than Cuban convert Dale Butler if you’re not convinced. The water, the Guv’s spell, or something, evidently triggers a unique disease – a Cabinet induced dementia that interrupts MPs brainwaves and causes them to cease intelligent thought and become mindless parrots of the Premier’s talking points: “Social Agenda, good. UBP, bad.”

But don’t despair. Whatever the cause, there’s hope. Once you walk out the door of the Cabinet Office, and don’t look back, the condition miraculously reverses itself, critical thought – and dignity – returns. Just ask Renee Webb.

The Government’s spin-doctors have attempted to mask this dementia as collective responsibility, the system under which Westminster style Cabinets operate. Collective responsibility proposes that the creation of policy through consensus achieves a more optimal and workable result; dumb ideas are discarded while the good ones are adopted and supported unanimously, regardless of any individual Minister’s original position. Bermuda’s Cabinet seems to prefer the inverse.

Renee Webb’s PR offensive this past week confirmed the sneaking suspicion that collective responsibility has been replaced by a combination of collective irresponsibility, stupidity and dishonesty. Ms. Webb’s critique of the Social Agenda, which complimented the Opposition’s, came complete with a list of initiatives that presumably failed to find favour among her fellow Ministers.

The former Minister confirmed the obvious: that little in the Social Agenda was new. In fact, it was just plain old G-O-V-E-R-N-M-E-N-T, notable for its lack of creative policy initiatives and abundance of public relations hype. One thing that Cabinet quickly and collectively agreed on is that it’s much easier to create an advertising campaign than effective public policy, so why bother with the latter.

So, undeterred by Ms. Webb and that pesky Opposition, the Government’s MPs persisted with their talking points: “Social Agenda, good. UBP, bad.” But the question remains: why is Cabinet so dysfunctional that it produces no quality policy initiatives and ensures that the few that do emerge end up as disasters?

The answer is quite simple. It’s easier than checking the water, patting down the Governor for a magic wand or even looking for that secret surgical ward under the Cabinet Office.

This generation of PLP MPs are interested in power and perks. Not people, not policy and definitely not principle.

So while seniors struggle to survive on measly pensions, housing is neglected, crime escalates, and Berkeley looks more and more like a companion tourist attraction to the Unfinished Church, the Government continues to find time and plenty of money to implement their real agenda: improving the quality of their own lives.

Collective irresponsibility is practiced with Ministers and MPs tending to their own housing needs – or real estate portfolios – first, before thinking about ways to assist in housing the people who elected them; collective stupidity is evident when a Minister tells a group of angry seniors who’ve marched on Parliament to attend House proceedings on a Thursday – when Parliament is not in session; and collective dishonesty was seen at the BHC, the Berkeley project and in attempts to implement Independence by stealth and discuss it only with foreigners on foreign soil.

Perhaps the most enduring image of all that is wrong with this Government was on display at the partially washed out 2004 Bermuda Music Festival. This year’s event included a new feature, a VIP section, and not just your regular garden variety VIP tent. This was an exclusive ‘PLP Lounge’, an elevated platform for Progressive Labour Partying, where MPs relaxed comfortably on ivory leather couches, sipped bottomless champagne and looked down on the rest of us.

It’s tragic not funny, that the only initiatives which see successful implementation are of the self-serving kind, while housing, seniors, economic empowerment and education go by the wayside.

But that’s all part of the dementia that had taken hold in the Cabinet Office.

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Isn't it about time that we got some answers on where the Berkeley project stands? There's been absolute silence since the site was closed down at the end of August.

On Sept. 15 The Royal Gazette reported that Government's assessors had completed their work and agreed to give Pro-Active 2 weeks for their own assessment.

So that would take us to the end of September. Today is the 23rd of November. That's three months of in-activity on the site without an update from Government. Every day that site continues uncompleted is just more and more money down the drain.

Last week the UBP gave notice of the following motion in Parliament, presumably to bring this issue back into focus:

Motion to be moved by Mrs. P.J. Gordon-Pamplin, notice of which was given on 12th November, 2004:-

“That this Honourable House deplores the management practices by the Government of the Senior Secondary School construction project at Berekeley [sic].”

So what that means is that as a motion on Berkeley has been tabled, MPs will be precluded from referring to it in the House (you can't 'anticipate' a pending debate).

But that doesn't stop the press from digging, submitting questions to the Minister for Work Stoppages and Poor Engineering Ashfield De Vent, and there's nothing stopping MPs from speaking about it outside of the House.

It's long past time for some answers and some heads to roll.

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I've posted an ad in the left hand column for the event that the UBP will be hosting on Monday, Nov. 29, 2004 at 12:30PM at the St. Paul's Centennial Hall, corner of Court & Victoria Streets.

Come by, bring your co-workers and friends. The event is free and open to all. Booker is widely regarded as a dynamic public speaker with a compelling story. A light lunch will be served.

In their Reply to the Throne Speech, the UBP announced:

The last of our 40th anniversary celebrations in 2004 will introduce the first in a series of conversations about race that we have planned for the year ahead. On November 29, Cory Booker, a Democratic social and political activist from Newark, New Jersey, will speak at St. Paul’s Centennial Hall on the strengths and challenges of diversity.

An article in this week's Washintgon Monthly profiles Booker:

"The Great Black Hope: 'What's riding on Barack Obama', Nov. 2004".

Below are some additional web sites with information on Mr. Booker:

Johnson C. Smith University: Cory Booker

NDOL: 100 To Watch: Cory A. Booker

Cory Booker - Greater Talent Network Speaker Profile

Horizon: The Downwardly Mobile Cory Booker

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From Bill Clinton's address at the opening of his Presidential Library last Thursday:

"America has two great dominant strands of political thought -- we're represented up here on this stage -- conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barrier that are no longer needed or should never have been erected in the first place.

"It seemed to me that in 1992 we needed to do both to prepare America for the 21st century: to be more conservative in things like erasing the deficit and paying down the debt and preventing crime and punishing criminals and protecting and supporting families, and enforcing things like child support laws and reforming the military to meet the new challenges of the 21st century.

"And we needed to be more progressive in creating good jobs, reducing poverty, increasing the quality of public education, opening the doors of college to all, increasing access to health care, investing more in science and technology, and building new alliances with our former adversaries, and working for peace across the world and peace in America across all the lines that divide us.

"Now, when I proposed to do both, we said that all of them were consistent with the great American values of opportunity, responsibility and community. We labeled the approach "New Democrat." It then became known as the third way, as it was embraced by progressive parties across the world."

That statement, minues the military and American angle, expresses exactly where I stand philosophically. Bermuda would be well served by a party and political leadership who adopt that approach.

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Attached are the House Minutes for Nov. 12, 2004.

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House convened: 10:01AM
House adjourned: 12:50AM
Ministerial Statements: 4 delivered, duration - 51 minutes
Attendance: 33/36
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For the inside report on the scene in Parliament while Renee Webb lashed her former Cabinet colleagues, check out John Barritt's View From the Hill.

"There were the odd shouts of encouragement – from the Opposition benches – but generally speaking it was all very civil as Drum Major Renée twirled her backbench baton and delivered a reasoned, reasonable analysis of what she thinks Bermuda needs from its Government. It was a far cry from the far cry Ms Webb typically gave when she spoke from the frontbench.

But Ms Webb and her comments found no echo in the Government benches. The PLP and their Social Agenda had been dissed, but there was no reply. There was no criticism in return. No defence either. The silence wasn't just golden, it was deafening."

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Irony on display over at PLP headquarters.

Apparently the members of the "Political Education Committee" aren't just Orwell fans, they're also into comedy.

November's PLP Political Education curriculum includes:

- Decorum in the House of Assembly
- Financial Accountability
- Parliamentary Procedure
- Know Your Constitution
- Public Relations
- Know Your Position on the Executive

Seriously. I'm not kidding, it's there for you to see: House Decorum, Financial Accountability, Parliamentary Procedure, Public Relations, Know Your Constitution!

Come early, seating is limited. The first 14 spots are reserved for Cabinet, all 4 nights.

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The past few days have been wall to wall coverage of Renee Webb. This was inevitable after her impromptu departure from Cabinet and long summer break, but her comments during the Throne Speech debate (here and here), on VSB news the past couple of nights, and in today's Royal Gazette (here and here) were quite insightful if you're a political watcher.

Firstly - and quickly - on the human rights and sexual orientation issue, I wholehearedly agree with Ms. Webb's position and fully support her bringing forth an amendment or a private members bill to include sexual orientation under the Human Rights Code.

Ok, but what is really interesting about Ms. Webb's comments recently is that they display a clear power struggle in the PLP.

Ms. Webb has emerged not just as a critic of her party, but with a vision of her own. Her comments on VSB that the PLP needs to reach out to the white community, that we should have moved past race as the dominant factor in Bermuda politics, among other things are clearly a move to position her for a leadership challenge. Her dislike of Alex Scott is pretty clear after her Cabinet resignation and their ensuing public spat, but she has returned with a vengeance, and is doing some positioning in the media and in Parliament with her presentation on black empowerment per South Africa.

Rumours abound that the PLP Parliamentary group is displeased with Alex Scott but that no single individual has emerged in the fragmented PLP elected group to challenge the current leader. Alex Scott, Ewart Brown and now Renee Webb are all clearly jockeying for position.

Alex Scott was reported by either VSB or ZBM this evening, to have said from London today, that he is aware what is going on in the press with Ms. Webb and will respond when he returns. No doubt, The Man, will provide some more unintended entertainment. The fallout from the Jennifer Smith coup continues. The Alex Scott band-aid is starting to burst.

There was another little comment which should have stood out in RG's story today on Ms. Webb's feelings on Tourism. It was a shot at Ewart Brown, the other potential challenger to Alex Scott:

Former Tourism Minister Renee Webb found Government's departure from the Elliot Ettenberg report "disconcerting", the backbencher told The Royal Gazette last night.

...

"The Ettenberg report was adopted by Cabinet, it was not just a Ministerial initiative," she said, adding that made the change "difficult to understand".

"It's not like there was a change in Government," she added.

To repeat: "The Ettenberg report was adopted by Cabinet, it was not just a Ministerial initiative," she said, adding that made the change "difficult to understand".

What Ms. Webb is talking about here is collective responsibility. I'm taking no position on the report itself, but she is implying - and not particularly subtly - that Tourism Minister Ewart Brown may be off on his own without Cabinet approval. That the Premier can't control him and that he is off doing whatever he wants, despite Cabinet's wishes. Either that, or Dr. Brown managed to change Cabinet's mind on the whole thing.

Which seems more likely? Ignoring collective repsponsibility is a pretty serious allegation, but one which shouldn't come as a big surprise.

Several months ago, when the GPS bill was re-tabled in the middle of the summer (peak tourism season), it was rumoured that Dr. Brown, without informing or obtaining approval from Cabinet, put down the controversial bill.

It is also rumoured that Ms. Webb, as Tourism Minister, was understandably furious with the effect that would have on tourism.

If this did indeed occur, that's a serious no-no and would be in line with what Ms. Webb is suggesting is going on with the Ettenberg report.

I was also informed that when the debate did take place, and Ms. Webb spoke in support of the GPS legislation, that Dr. Brown walked over to her and shook her hand - a very unusual gesture in Parliament when Cabinet is supposed to be in lock-step.

So, I wait, with baited breath, for Alex Scott to arrive and round 2 of the Scott and Webb Show to begin.

Clearly, all is not well in PLP land, and Alex Scott has more pressing things on his plate than the Social Agenda and Independence - survival.

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Attached are the House Orders of the Day for Friday Nov. 19, 2004.

The only real new piece of business is item 12 from the United Bermuda Party:

12. Motion to be moved by Mrs. P.J. Gordon-Pamplin, notice of which was given on 12th November, 2004:-

“That this Honourable House deplores the management practices by the Government of the Senior Secondary School construction project at Berekeley [sic].”

Normally practice is for two weeks notice before a motion is taken up after being placed on the order papers, but that debate promises to be lively and surely something the Government can't be pleased to see on the orders.

There are also the second reading of 3 pieces of legislation, two by the Finance Minister and one by the Minister of Labour Home Affairs & Public Safety):

7. Second Reading: "The Insurance Amendment Act 2004" (Minister of Finance) 12/11/04

8. Second Reading:
"The Restaurant (Temporary Customs Duty Relief) Amendment Act 2004"
(Minister of Finance) 12/11/04

9. Second Reading:
"The Anti-Terrorism (Financial and Other Measures) Act 2004"
(Minister of Labour, Home Affairs & Public Safety) 12/11/04

Coverage begins, as always, on Friday at 10:30AM on AM1230.

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John Barritt's normally light-hearted but insightful "View from the Hill" last Friday was not so light-hearted.

The UBP's House Leader has dispensed with the normal pleasantries, and seems uncharacteristically more than a little annoyed with the obstructionist tactics of the Government. As John points out, tactics are one thing but running roughshod, at will and unchecked by the Speaker, over the question and answer period every week is a real problem.

The Government is using underhanded and in some cases prohibited techniques to prevent probing questioning by the Opposition. It's a shame when you see the Government hiding from the public in the House, only appearing at highly controlled press conferences, and generally acting more like monarchs than elected officials.

Tony Blair in the UK, stands every week, and answers questions verbally with plenty of flair, skill and adeptness. Our guys, helped by 10 days notice of written questions, prefer not to answer them at all verbally.

It's worth a read as Parliament has returned in full force and John has a lot to report.

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Attached are the House Orders for Nov. 12, 2004, tomorrow's session of Parliament.

It's unlikely that anything other than Item 1 will be taken up - the second half of the Throne Speech debate.

The first half of the debate was interesting because the Government seems to be saving up their heavyweights for this week. That move was unusual because you figure that last week was when people would have been paying attention and that they'd want to try and undercut the reply early.

Instead, the Government seems to have taken the tactic that last week they would bury the Opposition's reply in other headlines with Ministerial Statements and announcements - which seemed to work - and then bring out the big guns this week. The UBP obviously held back some of their own, which means tomorrow promises some lively debate.

Last week saw the following speak (I think in this order):

Ashfield De Vent (PLP)
Maxwell Burgess (UBP)
Wayne Perinchief (PLP)
Louise Jackson (UBP)
Patrice Minors (PLP)
Jon Brunson (UBP)
Suzann Roberts-Holshouser (UBP)
Nelson Bascome (PLP)
Randy Horton (PLP)
Wayne Furbert (UBP)

Tomorrow expect to hear from, on the PLP side: Ewart Brown, the Premier himself, Paula Cox, Dale Butler among others. And on the UBP look for Dr. Gibbons, John Barritt, Michael Dunkley, Neville Darrell, David Dodwell and a couple more.

The House convenes at 10:30 and the debate will probably get going again around 11:30 - 12:00 after the normal housekeeping is wrapped up.

You can listen on AM 1230.

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RG Opinion (Nov. 09, 2004)

The remaking of the UBP

Throne Speech debates aren’t normally particularly insightful events, they’re annual rituals where Government touts their agenda and the Opposition points out its inadequacies. This year it was reasonable to expect that scenario to play itself out more acutely in light of the hype that was the Social Agenda.

That’s why Friday’s Throne Speech debate seemed so odd. Parliament had an unfamiliarly familiar feel; as if the UBP was again the Government and the PLP were back in Opposition.

After over-promising and under-delivering, Government had little to say about their agenda, their hearts just weren’t in it. Instead their speakers seemed rattled by the Opposition’s reply, devoting their time mostly to attacking the UBP. But they weren’t attacking the 14 members sitting opposite them; they were attacking the combination of a distant memory and a figment of their imaginations.

The PLP thrive on an image of the UBP that no longer applies. Those days are gone, long gone. The “new UBP” refuses to play along with the PLP’s song and won’t be forced into the mold that the Government desperately needs them in. The UBP of 2004 is renewed, reinvigorated, confident and creative. Perhaps most significantly, they’re unfazed by the age-old PLP intimidation tactics. The Government’s frustration with this scenario is starkly evident.

The UBP’s Throne Speech Reply was much more interesting than the Throne Speech itself, on a number of levels. It contained more interesting policy ideas and a broad vision – unlike the Social Agenda – but also represented the re-emergence of the UBP as a real political force, one comfortable with its history but not afraid to go its own way.

The seeds of current and future UBP successes were sown in the electoral defeats of 1998 and 2003. Thirty successive years in democratically elected Government is a long time – it’s a very long time – and probably won’t be seen again anywhere any time soon. Parties lose elections, it happens, but three decades of success can be isolating and creates distance between politicians and the electorate.

Every party and politician should be prescribed a dose of the Opposition medicine. The UBP took theirs and have responded well. Friday provided a real insight into the revolution that is occurring inside today’s United Bermuda Party, and what type of future Government they will be.

Building an enduring electoral majority occurs in incremental steps over time, it doesn’t happen overnight, and Friday was the first real flowering of those seeds planted in 1998. The Throne Speech Reply was a potent mixture of criticism balanced with vision and issues balanced with solutions, thrusting the Government into a defensive stance. Ironically the UBP seemed to set the agenda for the debate and the Government MPs went into attack mode – Opposition mode.

Unlike today’s UBP, the 90’s UBP seemed timid and unsure of itself. Timidity turns off an electorate, if you won’t fight for yourself why should voters expect you to fight for them? Today’s batch of UBP MPs has rediscovered the art of political guerilla warfare, in the trenches fighting, both inside and outside Parliament. That’s lesson number one of the 1998 and 2003 election losses.

The party has applied these skills effectively towards housing, seniors and now race, 3 signature issues of the new UBP. They’ve combined their greatest asset of effective management and execution with a laser-like social focus and aggressive public advocacy. The UBP aren’t just verbally jousting in Parliament, they’re adopting individuals, neighbourhoods, whole segments of the population, and are fighting for and with them to achieve results. That’s lesson number two.

Surprisingly to some, the current UBP is seeking out a leadership role around race, the third rail of Bermuda politics. Race perpetually simmers, bubbling over when the PLP feel backed into a corner or always at election time.

The parties approach race from two very different perspectives: the UBP see it as an issue, the PLP a weapon. No longer is the UBP discussing race solely on the PLP’s turf, they’ve shifted the discussion to a place where they can lead and provide solutions, not respond and be defensive. That’s lesson number three.

The 2004 Reply to the Throne Speech explicitly tackled race from two perspectives: dialogue and policy. By seeking to unite Bermudians through dialogue and shared experience, the UBP hope to bridge the divide and harness our collective greatness. The party also acknowledged that “talk is cheap”, that historical inequities persist and that our racial majority remains an economic minority. Accordingly, the Opposition proposed specific initiatives to address this inequity, something that was notably absent from the Throne Speech, and outlined a series of steps they would implement with a dedicated Ministry of Race Relations and Economic Empowerment.

After two defeats in six years the UBP has emerged as a stronger, focused, passionate, solution-based Government in waiting. Most importantly, they are cultivating an enduring electoral majority of voters interested in results not rhetoric.

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Now that Parliament is back in session John Barritt, aka JB the MP, is back in action with his Friday Mid Ocean Column reviewing the previous session.

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Housing and Works & Engineering Minister Ashfield De Vent has kicked off the Throne Speech debate and the PLP strategy seems pretty clear: resurrect the ghost of UBP's past and argue against that, not promote their own agenda or debate the vision that the UBP laid out today.

This is a fundamental miscalculation by the PLP, but a habit that they just can't kick. People are interested in today's PLP and today's UBP, not the PLP of the 1960s and not the UBP of the 1960s.

The dependency of the PLP on attacking past UBP members no longer serving is exactly why they can't put forward their own agenda. They remain consumed by the past and aren't living in today and looking to tomorrow.

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A quick note on strategy:

The PLP filled the first hour and a half of Parliament this morning with Ministerial Statements, congrats and obits, and the Premier trying to redeliver the abridged version of the Throne Speech as a pre-emptive attempt to undercut the UBP's reply.

The idea was no doubt for the PLP to try and capture the noontime radio headlines, bury the UBP's reply in other Government news and give themselves the whole lunch break to strategize on the ensuing debate. Not a bad tactic, but the Reply was excellent and there's lots of tidbits in there that the press will latch on to.

On to the content:

The UBP's Throne Speech Reply hit exactly the right tone. Dr. Gibbons came out of the gates strongly, aggressively and straight at the fraud that is the 'Social Agenda'.

Dr. Gibbons immediately went for the jugular:

"Talk about the Scott government’s new social agenda began earlier this year just as fallout from the Berkeley fiasco and the BHC police investigation thoroughly undermined what was left of Bermuda’s reputation for integrity, good government and competent management. In the wake of one government disaster after another, it was clear that the PLP had to invent something positive to talk about, even if it lacked credibility."

Ouch!

The rest of the introduction focused on how familiar promises of addressing social issues are in PLP Throne Speeches, how little has actually been achieved and how insincere this one is.

One of the best elements of the reply was the UBP using specific examples to put a human face on their complaints and Government incation:

"You don’t hear much from the people who really lost out. They tend to suffer in silence. We think of the long-serving hotel workers at Stonington Beach who lost their jobs when Coco Reef came in. The mothers and children living in unacceptable conditions while they wait for emergency housing. The seniors who don’t have enough money to see a doctor. And the Berkeley students and parents who have waited far too long for their new school."

The other tantalizing little tidbit Dr. Gibbons threw out for public consumption was this statement:

"Under these circumstances, how does the PLP government try to restore its credibility? How does the PLP government try to cover up six years of failure? How do an accidental Premier and his colleagues fight for their political survival? They try to divert attention with a “watershed” social agenda and deliver a Throne Speech that sounds suspiciously like a pre-election political platform."

The last sentence is key. This is both a cover up for failure and what looks like the beginnings of an early election campaign - more on that aspect in future posts.

The UBP then went on to do something I wish they'd do more, promote their own 30 year record of accomplishments. No doubt people will argue that the UBP doesn't deserve credit for anything positive, or didn't go far enough, but it is indisputable that they presided over some major changes in Bermuda's social landscape, and Dr. Gibbons was right to acknowledge the role of previous PLP Oppositions in advancing these issues:

• lowered the voting age and abolished the property vote following the institution of universal adult suffrage;
• desegregated public schools and created the modern, free public-school system;
• established the Bermuda College;
• introduced human-rights legislation to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender, and established the Human Rights Commission and CURE;
• created the Hospital Insurance Plan (HIP) with special subsidies for seniors, children and the indigent; workmen’s compensation; social insurance; and the National Occupational Pension Scheme;
• established the Bermuda Housing Corporation and built hundreds of affordable housing units from Top Square in St. George’s to Rockaway in Southampton; and
• nurtured a strong, two-sector economy through development of tourism and international business that allowed us to pay for modern social programs.

The Reply goes on to point out how much of the PLP's Social Agenda is lifted directly from the UBP's own 2003 Election Platform:

- customs duty relief for housing
- death tax on a primary residence
- seniors health clinics
- absentee ballots
- Freedom of Information Act

It also was effective in highlighting that calls for meetings, forums, conferences or seminars etc. - policy development and information gathering - is not action it's talk and that Throne Speeches are supposed to highlight new policy initiatives not restate existing ones like:

- Tech Quest
- renovation of derelict houses
- child-abuse register
- halfway houses

There were also some notable exclusions in the Throne Speech Reply that the Opposition Leader pointed out:

- Education
- Crime and Justice
- Independence

The latter got a special line:

"We also note that the Scott government has not included independence as a policy matter in the Throne Speech. We can assume, therefore, that any efforts by the PLP government to use parliamentary time to pursue this issue would detract from the implementation of their own "social agenda." "

The UBP are looking like they'll position independence between the Government and their Social Agenda. It's unpopular and if the Government could have thought of a reason to include it as a vital part of the Social Agenda they would have. But they didn't, so if they go down that road I imagine you'll see the UBP use it against their 'social agenda' positioning.

The second half of the reply moved from criticsm of the PLP to a presentation of the UBP's plan. This was no longer a reply but more of their own agenda.

The order of issues is useful to highlight:

1) Seniors
2) Housing
3) Tourism/Economy
4) Race/Economic Empowerment
5) Good Governance/Accountability

There you have the issues that the UBP think people care about and will be pounding at towards the next election.

They also provided substantially more substance in their 'reply' than the Government did in their 'agenda', some of it new and some of it an extension of their 2003 platform.

Seniors

>> free healthcare clinics (maybe mobile)
>> free eyeglasses and drugs for those who can't pay
>> cost of living pension increases
>> healthcare and insurance reform
>> affordable assisted-living facilities
>> higher health care standards
>> age discrimination protection in the Human Rights Code
>> raising of mandatory retirement age

Conclusion: some specifics, some that would need fleshing out but more substance than the Social Agenda.

Housing

Before talking about their plan the reply characterised the PLP 'agenda' as a band-aid but no plan. It then went on to point out undelivered promises from the previous few years in housing.

>> What does 'manufactued housing' mean? Trailer parks?
>> UBP proposed building 100 units in two years as a start
>> encourage private construction with special development zones - tax and other incentives
>> relax height restrictions
>> Build at Tudor Hill
>> examine Government property for further development potential
>> create financial packages for low interest mortgages and rent-to-buy
>> modular construction for lowering building costs
>> Develop a National Housing Strategy for both short and long term solutions

Conclusions: More of a plan and awareness of what areas need tackling than the Government has offered. This is a good start for a party that does not have access to the resources of the civil service to provide more substantial information.

Tourism/Economy

>> PLP has presided over a huge decline in tourism to our economy
>> PLP are naive to pretend we don't have seasons and we should market ourselves to suit the seasons
>> funding cuts to tourism agencies flies in the face of a commitment to improve it
>> Create a Tourism Authority

Conclusions: mostly a critique but the UBP's plan can be summed up in their last line of: "The Scott government should establish a Tourism Authority, cut the red tape and get out of the way".

Race/Economic Empowerment

>> PLP talks about working together but uses racially inflammatory advertising and tactics in their political strategy
>> The PLP stopped working with the UBP for bi-partisan principles of conduct for parliamentary debate and election campaigns
>> Highlighted the UBP's less extreme 'positive way' to make progress and see race and 'front and centre' in any party's social agenda.
>> White community must play a role
>> Shadow Ministry of Race Relations and Economic Opportunity will focus on breaking down racial barriers
>> On Nov. 29, 2004, the UBP will bring Cory Booker, a Democratic social and political activist to speak on the strengths and challenges of diversity.
>> UBP will sponsor a series of meeting, workshops, forums, dinner groups to faciliate discussion around race.

Concrete solutions proposed were:

Small Business
>> simplify tax structure for small business
>> small business training
>> require a percentage of government contracts be awarded to small businesses
>> ensure government pays their bills in 30 days
>> outsource (privatise) government services to small companies
>> broke venture capital funds
Bermuda Stock Exchange could be used to improve liquidity and capital raising for small businesses

Economic Development
>> create economic development zones (North Hamilton)
>> improve home ownership with starter homes under $250,000
>> government can facilitate mortgages and rent-to-buy schemes
>> technical and skills training
>> recognised the work of the National Training Board

Conclusions: lots of ideas and substance here. The UBP understands that talk about race is only one part and that people will only believe talk is sincere when coupled with policies which affect them in a tangible way.

Good Government/Accountability

>> The Premier and his colleagues have presided over all sorts of debacles without any accountability
>> The promised post-BHC anti-corruption legislation hasn't materialized
>> Talk of 'accountability and fairness' by the PLP is just talk

UBP would propose:
>> Parliamentary Code of Conduct
>> Open committee meetings to the public
>> amend parliamentary procedures to allow oral parliamentary question asking and answering
>> open tendering in all government departments
>> restore a non-political Attorney General
>> stop taxpayer funded political broadcasts
>> implement a Whistleblower's Act

Conclusions: All good stuff here but without the Government's cooperation it will go nowhere.

Reply Conclusion

>> reiterated reply theme of 'talk is cheap' and the track record of a failure to deliver
> pointed out the talk about caring is contradicted by actions like rent hikes at the Bermuda Housing Trust, evictions at Anchorage Road
>> working together is incompatible with divisive racial campaigning

My Overall Conclusion:

This was an excellent reply, well constructed and delivered effectively by the Oppposition Leader - he was even paced, firm but not lecturey.

The UBP have a great foundation here to move forward on but must remember that one speech does not a winning campaign make. They have to take this out directly on the doorstep, in the media but mostly in the way the party conducts itself.

Every action and statement from their members and candidates must speak to the values they have espoused while continuing their relentless criticism of the Government's continued failure.

This speech suggests that the UBP will run two strongs campaigns, a positive and negative one. Now they must get some attractive candidates on board, hammer away at the government, and stay true to their message.

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The UBP's Throne Speech Reply is available below. Comments to come shortly.

2004 Throne Speech Reply

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I have no idea where this came from (a Canadian maybe) - but it's funny.

For the record, there are a number of reasons why the Republicans won, not just the religious vote, but this made me laugh.

JesusLand

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In case you haven't had enough of the US election, Newsweek has started running their behind the scenes stories on both campaigns (new sections added daily).

The reporters were given extensive behind the scenes access but the stories were embargoed until after election day:

How Bush Did It

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Grant Gibbons will deliver the Oppositions Reply to the Throne Speech.

I expect a pretty hard hitting reply focused on the inadequacies of the Throne Speech/Social Agenda but coupled with the UBP balancing that criticism with their own vision.

Parliament will be broadcast on AM 1230 from 10:30AM. Dr. Gibbons will have to wait until after Ministerial Statements - of which there will surely be many (in a hope to minimize tonight and tomorrow's headlines for the UBP) - as well as congrats and obits.

I'd think Dr. Gibbons wouldn't get started until sometime after 11AM, maybe closer to 11:30 depending on how the Government use the time.

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Tonight on VSB News, Rev. Leonard Santucci of the AME (and a former UBP Senator who I know well) was interviewed with regards to the issue of sexual orientation being added to the Human Rights code. (Ed note: VSB stated that Rev. Santucci was speaking in his capacity as a member of the clergy.)

I am more than familiar with Rev. Santucci’s position on this issue and respect his religious beliefs, but could not disagree with him more. To sum up the Reverend’s argument he felt that adding sexual orientation to the Human Rights Code was asking Christians to condone sinning – I’m paraphrasing here. But that is not the case.

I am sensitive to the depth of feeling on this issue by all sides, but particulary those of strong religious belief. However no-one is being asked to ‘condone’ or approve of someone's sexual orientation if they believe it to be immoral, a sin or whatever. What is being asked (or was asked and quickly reversed … more on that later) is that sexual orientation be protected under the Human Rights Code. Simply put, the Code isn’t asking anyone to agree with anything, it is simply ensuring that discrimination doesn’t occur on that basis.

Surely Rev. Santucci and Christians would argue that their religious beliefs should be protected by law and the Human Rights Code (as I believe they are) and that those who don't hold their beliefs should not be able to discriminate against them on this basis. Sexual orientation is no different.

Rev. Santucci is free to denounce the behaviour, free to disagree and free to preach that homosexuality is a sin. I'd fight for that right to be entrenched in law, but surely the position of those opposed to the sexual orientation provision aren't asking to be permitted to discriminate?

I would hope that we as a community are respectful of our differences, even if we don’t like them, and can at least agree that it is wrong to discriminate against someone on any basis - including sexual orientation?

No-one’s asking anyone to modify their beliefs – as much as I would hope that we remove the sexual orientation stigma over time. It's simply being asked that we don't discriminate.

It's my hope that those of faith, those who aren't religious, homosexuals, heterosexuals, all Bermudians and people can find common ground on the basis of fairness and equality in law.

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If you need a good long laugh check out today's Royal Gazette, p. 30, bottom left corner.

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This talk from Cal Smith and Rolfe Commissiong about ABIC not being allowed to wade into the independence debate is stupid and insincere on a number of levels:

Firstly, the outrage about international business becoming involved in local politics is complete and utter BS. I submit the following as evidence of PLP duplicity:

"In addition it must be noted that your Party has received very kind and significant financial support from the business community and I would like to personally thank the respective firms and individuals for their much valued contribution."

(Alex Scott addressing the PLP Annual Delegates Conference on 25 October 2004)

So the standard is that we'll take your money, but keep your opinions to yourself thank you very much. Unless the PLP return the business community's money (both local and international) and refuse to accept any in the future they don't have a leg to stand on here. This is hypocrisy at its best.

If ABIC's conclusions had been favourable they'd be trumpeting the report and ABIC would be their best buddy.

Rolfe and Cal are not running off on private missions, they're doing the Premier's dirty work. The attack dogs are out because they think they finally have someone to demagogue in the Independence debate - the Governor thing didn't bite so they're trying ABIC on for size. That's all they are up to here with this false outrage. This issue has gained zero traction in the past 9 months and they're desperately searching for something to trigger a debate among the overwhelming majority of people who find it completely uninteresting and irrelevant in our day to day life.

This attack on ABIC will likely backfire. ABIC and their members have done more work and provided more clarity on the issue with one letter than the Government has. People respect and appreciate that. They also have far more credibility than any political party and directly affect the lives of thousands of their Bermudian employees. While they ultimately look out for the financial interests of their shareholders they have provided a dispassionate look at the issue with a business-like approach.

I doubt I'll comment much more on this but this is nothing more than posturing and unhappiness over Government's vaporware PR campaign being undercut before it starts. That's the Government's own problem from their own procrastination. The're just upset that information has come out which will only solidify in the minds of the two-thirds of Bermudians who are already suspicious of this, that Independence is ill-advised.

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RG Opinion (Nov. 02 2004)

Social Agenda a big yawn

The Social Agenda has arrived. No really, it’s here. That noise you heard on Friday was it, the great sucking sound of the whole island yawning together.

So what was in the Social Agenda then? What had the Premier and his Cabinet so excited – other than the recently departed Renee Webb that is – that they couldn’t stop repeating those two words? What was in this colossal and unprecedented revamp of Bermuda’s political landscape?

Street-lights, speed bumps and scholarships. Yep, that’s it, no kidding. The Social Agenda is just more of the same old same old. What was new was the packaging and PR, courtesy of our very own king of the political infomercial, our very own celebrity pitch man who’s convinced that he can sell anything.

Friday saw the Governor – with the characteristic enthusiasm all Governors inject into their annual Throne Speech cameos – unveil the PLP’s highly anticipated “watershed event”, the “awesome” plan, the 10 year all-encompassing cross ministry initiative, the Social Agenda. What is it out to tackle? Try computers for a start. That’s another initiative we’re ambitiously throwing the full resources of the Civil Service at – the island-wide computer ownership crisis.

Someone, anyone, just throw in a towel, put Premier Scott and his Band of Merry Ministers out of their misery. Is anyone still in doubt about why Renee Webb walked away in disgust? Love her or not, she can spot a fake a mile away.

The Social Agenda, we were told, was going to remake the political landscape; Phase II of the journey to a New Bermuda. Phase I, in case you’ve forgotten, involved satiating the new political elite’s 30-year hunger for taxpayer funded perks: cars, houses, travel, parties and bottomless credit cards. Phase II we now know, is as that wily and perceptive Hester commented in Saturday’s Royal Gazette, “a plan to have a plan”. You can’t sum it up better than that. The subtext of Phase II is of course the desperate attempt to turnaround the declining political fortunes of a floundering, visionless, compromise Government.

In hindsight the biggest tip-off that the Social Agenda wouldn’t live up to the hype was the Premier’s announcement that ‘even the cover is different’. Evidently the content was so compelling that the artwork needed a plug. What did we discover behind that glossy cover? We found more of the same in a different wrapper, classic empty vessel syndrome.

The PLP Government, suffering from a chronic case of mental constipation, can’t seem to stop popping the marketing pill – maybe that’s why they won’t be drug tested. If they put half as much energy into developing and executing policy as they do promoting themselves we might get somewhere.

Nonetheless, last Friday we dutifully suspended our disbelief and awaited something earth shattering from a Government that claims to “deliver”. What a let down it was to discover that what was delivered was sorely lacking. In fact, if this Government were delivering pizza – now there’s an idea, and something they might be better suited for – we’d be getting a stale, half-baked, hastily assembled, light on toppings but heavy on the advertising pie, delivered in a fancy box, in a really big car, driven by a slick driver spewing non-stop hyperbole.

Unsurprisingly, this Social Agenda is simply a compilation of pre-existing Government services rolled up in a fancy new wrapper, delivered by an out of touch traveling salesman.

Consider the announced new Community Areas Programme. This exciting new initiative will focus on traffic calming, day care, community education and the upgrading of derelict buildings for instance. Sound familiar? It should, these are all services provided by Works & Engineering, Cultural Affairs or Health and Family Services for example – standard things that every government worldwide offers.

Undoubtedly the most notable aspect of this agenda is its absolute dearth of details, action points or broad vision. Instead, exhilarating words like “develop”, “research”, “identify”, “formulation”, “potential”, “summits”, “conferences”, “forums” littered the document. Those aren’t action words of a Social Agenda, that’s more talk. This isn’t paralysis by analysis, it’s paralysis disguised as analysis.

The few decent new ideas can mostly be accomplished with the stroke of a pen. The Mature Student Further Education Award provides a useful example. There’s nothing wrong with that idea, and scholarships are something the Government provides aplenty, but it will take nothing more than setting aside $10,000 in the next budget. Done, what’s next? Is it useful? Yes. Will it reshape Bermuda? No. Is it a new idea? Not really.

This speech confirmed that the squandering of the past 6 years looks set to continue, and that only after taking care of themselves and amid signs of a return to the backbench, has Government decided to think about researching, identifying and information gathering. Time, we need more time, is the plea. There appears to be no end in sight to our directionless drift under this visionless, clueless Government.

The Premier might think that he can obscure a lack of substance with bravado, table thumping, and loud proclamations of the undisputable greatness of this Agenda. Predictably we’ve heard it all before. The Government constantly adopts the strong offense as a good defense approach to combat reality; need we revisit the unresolved Berkeley saga?

The Social Agenda has been exposed as nothing more than another request for another chance, a ten-year (two election cycle) all-encompassing public relations sham intended to defer judgment on chronic PLP inaction.

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Quick pop quiz.

What issue is conspicuously absent from this quote in Finance Minister Paula Cox's speech as reported in today's RG?

Government’s vision, she said, “embodies the ideal of what our country can be – a view that rests on the assumption that all human beings, regardless of their differences of name, language, culture, religion, gender or sexual orientation must find genuine opportunity”, the Finance Minister said.

Imagine if a UBP MP had made that omission!

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