Mid Ocean News (10 Nov. 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
THERE we were, Mr. Editor, back from our summer recess, sitting under the shade of the Big Tent on the manicured lawn of the Cabinet Office, listening as attentively as we could to a Prince; no, not the Prince who plays basketball for the Detroit Pistons, and not the son of Michael Jackson, and not the artist who was formerly known as Prince. No, this Prince was the real deal: Prince Andrew, His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, British royalty no less, and the occasion was, as most people know, the opening of Parliament and the reading of the Throne Speech.
I think the Prince later said that it was his first time – reading a speech for the Throne on behalf of his mother, the Queen, not just in Bermuda, but anywhere. It was my first time too – listening to a Throne Speech in my capacity as MP being read by someone other than the Governor of Bermuda.
I thought the Prince did a pretty good job too, reading a speech which he had not written. That was done for him by our Man in Bermuda, the P and his Cabinet – and that of course is the way Throne Speeches are done. They are an outline of what the Government plans to do in the parliamentary year ahead.
The Prince also showed a pretty good sense of humour ( and some local insight as well, I thought) when he misread thirty months as thirty years for the time which Government plans on taking to build 330 new rental units.
The still, solemn atmosphere of the occasion was punctuated with almost instant, unabashed laughter all around when the Prince said it would take thirty years, and when he promptly corrected himself, not once, but twice; and more emphatically actually the second time around, Mr. Editor, when the guffaws continued in some, but not all quarters.
If he didn’t know then why the mistake was so funny, I’m certain someone filled him afterwards – and it would not necessarily have had to have been the Shadow Minister for Housing, Wayne Furbert, such is the PLP track record on housing after seven years in power. People have heard the promises before.
I was going to say that this was also the first time that I can recall enjoying a really good laugh at the reading of a Throne Speech. But on reflection, Mr. Editor, that would be quite disingenuous of me as a member of the Opposition.
The difference is that you don’t normally laugh out loud. That isn’t done – and it certainly isn’t expected.
The ceremony is after all a serious and special occasion on the political (and social) calendar, replete with all the pomp and pageantry that goes with the parade that marks the re-opening of Parliament: the Bermuda Regiment soldiers resplendent in black and red striped trousers with white tunics, led by the stirring sounds of their world-reknown Band; a horse-drawn landau with the Prince and H.E. in stiff, starched whites; and MPs and Senators as well as a host of other officials and dignitaries making their way into the shade of the Big Tent by way of a red carpet laid over the lawn; and let me tell you, Mr. Editor, negotiating carpet draped over grass is no easy feat ( pun intended) – it can bunch easily and my sympathy goes out to those of my colleagues who wore heels. The last thing you want to do it trip and fall flat on your face on such occasions. Luckily for us the paparazzi in Bermuda are not so overwhelming.
Ask The Colonel
THE Prince of course had the only real speaking part and the Throne Speech took about 30 minutes – although it might have seemed longer to those, like the soldiers in the Bermuda Regiment, who were at attention in a surprisingly warm, November sun. Spare a thought for them, Mr. Editor: we were seated in the shade and they were standing ...the whole time.
Some quick thoughts then on what I heard and on two items that stuck out. I defer to the Official Reply of the Opposition which comes next week from Leader the Hon. Dr. Grant Gibbons.
On Independence: The Premier and his Government are going to continue to push the issue – surprise, surprise – notwithstanding what the polls are saying. They are promising more public meetings to “educate” the public about the conclusions of BIC, to be followed by a Green Paper ( a discussion paper for Parliament) and then by a White Paper outlining Government’s proposals for an independent Bermuda. No mention of decision by referendum or general election or simultaneous general election and referendum or general election followed by referendum or …. or what? My guess is that people are going to get this education whether they want it or not. In the meantime, we will have to vote with our voices and our feet.
A Government Information TV channel: I wonder who thought this one up and why? I mean if the true intent is to simply promote Government services and programmes, it can’t be cost effective. Surely it’s easier and less expensive to buy the time on the local stations? I was going to say just ask the Colonel – and I will. But wait a minute, Mr. Editor, this latest brainwave came wrapped with the explanation that this will also be a means “to increase Bermudian content on the airwaves and provide an opportunity for young people to enter the field of public media”.
Something fresher than Fresh, I presume ? I wait with interest to see who did the costing research on this one, and whether we will ever see a copy of the study which recommended this course of action.
You have to wonder too, who will be watching: Those waiting in lines maybe, like at Immigration and Customs at the airport?
Speaking of television, if given a choice, I would have thought that maybe the time had come to explore televising the proceedings of Parliament. This is becoming fairly standard in most jurisdictions and a part of the development of accountability and transparency for better governance. As The House Turns, All My MPs etc. etc.
But all jokes aside, Mr. Editor, it’s a show that might actually draw some viewers and have some (positive) effect on parliamentary performance.
3 x 35 = 2
TRADITION has it that when the House first meets no other business is taken up other than the reading of the Throne Speech. Excepting for that quaint feature, Mr. Editor, of congrats and obits – and after a three month recess there were a lot of people and events to be remembered. It took members well over an hour to get through this portion of the agenda, even though each MP was (as always) limited to three minutes in total: I mean it can take up two hours, give or take, if all 35 speak to the limit.
Some of us sought to use our three minutes wisely by associating ourselves with the congratulatory remarks or condolences of previous speakers. Just like PLP Whip Ottiwell Simmons tried to do when he began by saying that he wished to associated with “most” of the condolences which he had heard thus far.
“Most?”, inquired Minister Terry Lister, leaning back in his seat to ask his question of Mr. Simmons, adding: “Which ones then do you not wish to be associated with?”.
We all got the point – smiles all around.
NO Ministerial statements, Mr. Editor – and why would there be? The Throne Speech is meant to be The Statement of the Government. Their day in the sunshine, you might say. But we might reasonably count on a raft of them when we next meet. That’s when Dr. Gibbons will get to present the Opposition Reply – and the Reply doesn’t come up on the order paper until after Ministerial Statements which can, in both number and length, distract and delay from what the Opposition has to say. Watch for it.
By the way, the House won’t be meeting again until Monday the 14th. It can’t be Friday as usual, as this week it is Remembrance Day when we remember those who fought and those who died so we could actually enjoy the freedom of a Parliament - no matter the day we meet.
BEST wishes in retirement, Mr. Editor, to former MP and Senator Reggie Burrows of the PLP. He was one of those who was remembered on Friday in congrats and obits for his 37 years of service in the Bermuda Legislature. I was reluctant to join in ( but did anyhow) as we thought he had retired when he quit membership the House on the Hill in 2003, only to return as a Senator for two years. Reggie assures that this time it is for real and there were those on both sides of the House who were moved to wish him well. I can’t help but think that if all members, myself included, had the temperament of Reggie Burrows – or even half of it, Mr. Editor – the House on the Hill would be a very different place. Televised or not.
So much then, for the system, being to blame.