National heroes

It's unfortunate that an undertaking as worthy as the selection and celebration of national heroes has been marred by controversy and confusion from the start.

First, there was the decision to hold the public holiday for National Heroes Day in October at the same time that the Queen's Birthday Holiday in June was scrapped.

Then the holiday was moved back to June, but was scheduled for the weekend after the old Queen's Birthday holiday. In the meantime, the Queen's Birthday is still celebrated on Front Street a week earlier, while the national heroes day celebrations have been decidedly low key.


It's unfortunate that an undertaking as worthy as the selection and celebration of national heroes has been marred by controversy and confusion from the start.

First, there was the decision to hold the public holiday for National Heroes Day in October at the same time that the Queen's Birthday Holiday in June was scrapped.

Then the holiday was moved back to June, but was scheduled for the weekend after the old Queen's Birthday holiday. In the meantime, the Queen's Birthday is still celebrated on Front Street a week earlier, while the national heroes day celebrations have been decidedly low key.

But the problems surrounding the shifting of the dates pale in comparison to the controversy surrounding the selection of the national heroes themselves.

"National heroes" is a misnomer. Bermuda only has one; the late Dame Lois Browne-Evans, who was selected by the Cabinet in 2008.

At the time, this was greeted with a good deal of surprise. No one disputed that Dame Lois, who died in 2007, was an important figure and trailblazer in 20th Century Bermuda.

But Bermuda's first ever national hero and thus greatest ever Bermudian? Dr. E.F. Gordon, W.L. Tucker and others had greater claims on that score.

Nonetheless, it seemed likely that they would get their turns in due course. Not so. There was no national hero in 2009 and none this year.

Former Culture Minister Dale Butler first said criteria were being developed, and current Minister Neletha Butterfield promised in May that from now on, submissions would be solicited from the public and then a committee of politicians would make a recommendation to Cabinet.

That committee was supposed to consist of two Government MPs, one Government Senator, one Opposition MP and one Opposition Senator.

But the United Bermuda Party refused their appointments, saying the committee should be broader-based and should be non-partisan rather than bi-partisan.

The UBP has a point. Bermuda's legislators are good for many things, but they have no particular monopoly on who is deserving of being made a national hero.

This is not a criticism of the particular members of the committee; former Premiers Dame Jennifer Smith and Alex Scott are steeped in Bermuda history. The point is simply that the committee should not be limited to politicians. Bermuda has many fine historians who could bring judgment and perspective to the decision.

Rather than accept the UBP's view, Minister Butterfield then compounded the error by only appointing Progressive Labour Party politicians to the committee.

Now any decision of the committee, no matter how carefully reached, will be suspect.

Before it's too late, Ms Butterfield should start again with a broad-based committee drawn from all parts of the community.

Even that committee will no doubt be accused of making the wrong choice, especially after the most prominent choices are made.

But at least they won't be accused of being politically biased or too narrowly based. And that's a start.

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