Mid Ocean News (10 Nov. 2006)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'
IT WAS like I said last week, Mr. Editor: Been there, done that. Several times. All the pomp and the pageantry and the promises that typically accompany the opening of our Parliament , and the reading of a Speech from the Throne, can wear a little thin after a time. This was afterall Throne Speech No.14 for me as MP, for those of you who are also counting, and the ninth under the PLP, although it was the first under their latest leader and now third Premier in four years, Dr. the Honourable Ewart F. Brown - or, as they now prefer to describe themselves, which they did in the Throne Speech: the third Progressive Labour Party administration.
Third time lucky, Mr. Editor? Or third strike and you’re out? That’s the question.
But first things first. We need to spot the difference between the third and the second and the first administrations, although we were warned in the lead-up to the run-off at the Wreck not to be on the look-out for that much in the way of innovation.
The warning came from Minister Paula Cox, and now Deputy Premier, who was supporting the Other Guy at the time. “It seems to me extraordinary”, Ms. Cox was reported as having said in The Royal Gazette, “that someone who served at the Cabinet table, not just as Minister since 1998 but in the role of Deputy Premier for the last three years, to see the fleshing out of ideas which in many ways replicated those already discussed and or actioned by the Cabinet in which he served.”
I am not sure that I could have said it better myself, Mr. Editor. But the fact is that we will never know what was in the first draft of the Throne Speech that was written under the Most Recent, Second Former PLP Premier, and how that compares with the words which the Governor read for the New Guy.
But we can guess.
I am sure that, like everyone else, you noticed that which was missing. Gone were the words, Social Agenda, Sustainable Development, and Independence, which had featured so prominently in the Second PLP administration in which, as Ms Cox rightfully pointed out, the Doctor was the Number Two Man.
We were meant to notice.
Old Premier, old words.
He went, they went.
In their place, we didn’t so much get new words but a grab bag of goodies, some of which we have heard before and some of which will be need to be fleshed out, if not thought out. Costed out too, I hope; although you have to wonder where the money is going to suddenly come from to fund this latest rash of new programmes and ideas. It’s the speak now pay later plan, I suppose.
Social Agenda may have been replaced by Social Rehabilitation, but it seems to me that some of the same initiatives remain – or ought to. They are being dressed up differently. New Premier, new words.
But nothing can change the fact that the country has been crying out for a housing plan for eight years. Promises have not provided shelter.
For a majority of Bermudians, education has always been about more than bricks and mortar. But bricks and mortar, and more and more bricks and more and more mortar, followed by claim and counter-claim and a secret arbitration, and a bill of $120-million and still counting, and now eight years later the PLP wants to shift their focus (finally) from concrete and glass to teaching and learning.
For those who have been following, the Shaggy “It wasn’t me” defence was once again trotted out on the proposed new hospital. We were told that we were wrong to focus on location, we should have been focusing on healthcare priorities first. Well, excuse me, Mr. Editor, but who is we? It was the PLP Cabinet afterall that led us down that garden path when they went along with the choice of the Botanical Gardens as the best site. Oh, I forgot: I am supposed to remember that was the Second PLP administration this is the Third.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars later, and after many lost months, and now a change of leader, they tell us they think they have it right now. The PLP Government is now going to focus on what services the KEMH should provide before deciding costs and location. Sounded like a plan to me. Finally.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars later and no mention of Independence. Not a word unless you count the comment in the Throne Speech that Bermuda is “constitutionally advanced”. Nice of you to recognize that. But what people want to know is is we or ain’t we going to let the people decide the issue now?
A couple of portfolio changes, a couple of recycled Ministers, and the return of a couple of Ministers from the First Administration, and suddenly everything old is new again. Mistakes are also meant to be forgotten. I don’t know about you, Mr. Editor, but as one senior politician whispered to me at the conclusion of the reading of the Throne Speech (and he shall remain nameless so as to protect the guilty): we’ve seen it before and heard it before.
The proof will be in what they produce.
Still, you have to have a certain sympathy for PLP backbenchers like Glenn Blakeney who were wondering where it all went wrong – leading up to the Wreck vote.
“ What?”, he was reported by The Royal Gazette to have asked, “has the PLP done so miserably wrong that deserves three PLP leaders and three Premiers – if there should be change – in eight years?”
Miserably wrong, huh? Sounds about right to me.
There are explanations that I cannot wait to hear when debate begins this week on the good Doctor’s prescription aka Throne Speech 2006. All change now, I bet.
BUT I won’t be holding my breath, Mr. Editor, waiting for any such analysis in the House on the Hill from the PLP backbench. The ranks are closing – at least for public viewing.
The example was set last Friday by the Most Recent Former PLP Premier when he rose to speak on Congrats & Obits from his new seat on the backbench, to the rear and to the right of the seat he used to occupy as Premier, facing the back of the Man who replaced him ( and no, Brutus, I don’t think that’s why they call it the backbench: there’s also a new trio that sits in a corner on the other side of the aisle next to the Opposition facing the New Premier – Messrs. DeVent, Lister (Walter) and Blakeney replacing Messrs Bascome, Lister (Dennis) and Scott (George) who all went over to the Other Side – perhaps another story for comment at another time, Mr. Editor).
The Speaker confessed to having difficulty in not referring to Mr. Scott (Alex) as the Premier – and said so.
“Thank you”, said the Most Recent Former Premier.” Thank you for recognizing me at my new political address”.
Laughter all around [or LOL for all you bloggers, yes Dennis?]
Many an uncomfortable situation is eased by a sense of good humour. The Most Recent Former PLP Premier had one and he used it to great effect on a number of occasions last Friday. But he also delivered a party political message when he congratulated his rival on his victory. It was a point that was not meant to be lost on his colleagues i.e. those who voted for him and now join him on the backbench, as well for those who did not and now sit on the frontbench.
We could have heard a pin drop. I don’t know about the penny, Mr. Editor.
One final word on this: It was a testament to both personal character and class that MP Alex was there on the day. Smart . Very smart.
CONGRATS and obits, we had a lot of, Mr. Editor. A lot happened in the 16 weeks we were out for the summer – and I don’t just mean the election of a new leader and a new Premier by the Other Side. Traditionally congrats and obits is all we do speak on following the reading of the Throne Speech. Powder and shot is saved for debate this week after the Opposition United Bermuda Party delivers the Reply.
Among the more notables to whom tribute was paid by both sides was the late John Irving Pearman, a former Deputy Premier of the United Bermuda Party who served in both the Upper and the Lower Houses, down the Hill and up the Hill, with distinction. There was also a minute’s silence, along with obituary remembrance of former Mayor of Hamilton Jay Bluck who had died not long after taking office.
Looking in on our quaint tradition, Mr. Editor, was a visiting high level delegation from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, headed by the Secretary General Dennis Marshall, who had not come for the opening of Parliament but had spent the week here putting the finishing touches to a policy document that will seek to establish benchmarks or minimum standards for democratic legislatures throughout the world.
A couple of us had an opportunity to sit in and participate in some of their sessions. It’s good stuff, Mr. Editor. They are actually trying to give meaning (and bite) to the words accountability and transparency and ethical conduct.
I won’t pre-empt what it is they will have to say, but I know I won’t be disappointed. Bermuda truly is in another world and parliamentary reform is long overdue.
Hook, line and stinker
FOOD for thought, Mr. Editor: I noticed in the Throne Speech a return to a line that’s been around before. I know I am mixing my metaphors but there was something in their about beefing up our commercial fishing industry, local and offshore. I can’t help but wonder if they are asking us to fight a losing battle. Just by chance, I also happened to read a news story that same day advising that oversight of commercial fishing has to be strengthened, otherwise there may eventually be no more seafood. That was the conclusion of a report in last week’s Science journal which is projecting that 90 percent of the fish and shellfish species that are hauled from the ocean to feed people worldwide may be gone by 2048.
Yikes! I am not suggesting that we put all our eggs in one basket but maybe it is farming and farmers that we should be focusing on. In the background, a rendition of Danny Boy please.
BY the way, did anyone remember, remember, the 5th of November? I am sorry but it’s the real fireworks that I miss on that day, Mr. Editor. They are so much more, well, illuminating, don’t you think?