‘It’s a big learning curve’

  • Craig Cannonier enters his car for the first time as Premier of Bermuda after being sworn in by Governor George Fergusson yesterday afternoon.

    Craig Cannonier enters his car for the first time as Premier of Bermuda after being sworn in by Governor George Fergusson yesterday afternoon.

Observers reflect on new premier’s experience in politics

By Jonathan Bell

New Premier Craig Cannonier’s brief history in politics will leave the One Bermuda Alliance leader heavily reliant on his colleagues.

That was the verdict of political commentators and trade union sources appraising Mr Cannonier’s three years in the Bermuda Democratic Alliance and the OBA.

“Clearly, Mr Cannonier has limited political experience,” noted political commentator and Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown

“It will take him some time to get up to speed. But he has a number of people on his team who have the experience, which he will need to use going forward.”

Asked if the latest election had shown a desire among voters for a fresh start or if Mr Cannonier’s lack of political history had appealed to a disenchanted electorate, Mr Brown said: “If you look at the results, you see a significant drop in voter turnout. Across the constituencies it was down five percent, the majority of them PLP voters.”

Ultimately, he said, it was the PLP’s “failure to resonate with them” that spoke the loudest.

Mr Brown pointed out that he won in Pembroke Central by a slim margin: 353 votes to the 347 votes cast for the OBA’s Andrew Simons.

“Those who really wanted change came out. Younger people came out to a higher degree, and they were primarily OBA supporters. I’m just not sure what change they wanted,” he said.

At his swearing-in on Tuesday, Mr Cannonier confessed to being “very much frustrated at how long it takes to get things done” in Government.

Bermuda Public Services Union general secretary Ed Ball said it perhaps showed his unfamiliarity with the system.

“Unfortunately, people need to understand that within the Civil Service, people have to follow a chain of command,” said Mr Ball.

“By its nature, it’s highly structured and ordered. Civil servants have to do what they’re told.

“The BPSU has always been in favour of a quality Civil Service, but at the same time you have to work with that system.

“Mr Cannonier is going to be in a very, very dicey position. He’s got to come up to speed very quickly on a lot of things.

“He’s also got to come up on the Ministries how they’re structured, all the various nuances, the budgeting. It’s a big learning curve.

“He’ll have to depend on the more senior civil servants and the people in his Cabinet like Grant Gibbons and Trevor Moniz who have that experience.”

Asked if Mr Cannonier’s business experience compensated for his limited track record in politics, Mr Ball said: “It’s going to be very interesting how he brings his own political style to the table.

“I’ve seen governments come and go. You just can’t come right in and hire and fire. Coming in from the private sector, you can’t equate the two.”

He added: “He’s promised a lot. We will see. In particular, with jobs, it’s going to be interesting to see how he comes up with the money — and how money springs from the trees overnight.”

BPSU President Kevin Grant told The Royal Gazette: “When considering Mr Cannonier’s lack of experience I would think that he would be able to rely on the years of experience held by a number of the seasoned veterans in his new Government.

“When we look at where we are now as a Country economically, financially, socially and labour wise the benefit of having years of political experience may have worked to his advantage.

“However, his party has stated that they will grow the economy by creating jobs, reducing Government spending and debt, strengthen Government services and reduce the cost of living.

“These initiatives will certainly be very challenging, and this is something that will be really critical to the survival of this Country.

“Be that as it may, we live in a democracy, and the people have voted for change. Now we have to see if this will be a change in the right direction.”

Bermuda Industrial Union head Chris Furbert said: “All I would say is the people of Bermuda have spoken. They decided to vote Mr Cannonier and his party into power. It’s up to him to deliver leadership.”

He agreed that Mr Cannonier would have to rely on his colleagues.

“Whether it’s the Minister of Finance or the Attorney General, he needs his team around. Hopefully, it will be a strong team.”

Asked if he thought Mr Cannonier had what it took to be Premier, Mr Furbert said: “That’s a question for Mr Cannonier.”

Political commentator Christian Dunleavy said that a scant background in politics wasn’t a bad thing.

“On the question of his political experience, I think the idea that you have to be a politician to be in Government is misguided,” he said.

“One of the things that’s taken Bermuda off the rails in the last few years is people looking at politics itself as a career.

“Craig’s got retail and management experience, which is good, and there’s a lot from that which can be applied to government.

“People get hung up on political experience, but Bermuda’s at the point where it needs a fresh take, and I’m not sure you can get that from someone who’s embedded in the system.”

Mr Dunleavy, himself a former political candidate, added: “I think the OBA ran a pretty good campaign.

“It wasn’t perfect, but they had a plan and they stuck with it, which I think tells you that he’s a pretty good manager.

“He is also team-oriented. He’s confident, knows he can’t do it all, and doesn’t always have to be the frontman.”

Despite that, he agreed that Mr Cannonier faced “a steep learning curve”.

“One of the most interesting aspects of this last election was we saw some of the big names from the 1998 PLP losing out, people like Paula Cox and Dame Jennifer Smith. I think that shows voters want a new approach.”

Mr Dunleavy said Government, by definition, moves more slowly than the private sector.

However, he added: “I do think Craig is right — things need to move faster.

“One thing Craig does have a ton of energy and skills as a speaker and motivator, so I hope he can move things forward. But government is by design slower.

“(Former Premier) Ewart Brown liked to have a reputation as someone who got things done, but he saw himself as a presidential-style leader.

“He just did things. He had a decree-and-it-happens-tomorrow style.”

A spokesman for the OBA said: “Mr Cannonier has been involved in politics for a few years now, having arrived on the scene as a successful businessman. In politics, he was instrumental in the formation of the One Bermuda Alliance, helping it grow into party representing Bermudians from all walks of life, overseeing the development of an election platform to meet the economic and social challenges of our time, and then leading his party to an amazing victory at the polls, with a message of hope and change while steering clear of the politics of division. Mr Cannonier possesses a deep understanding of Bermuda and its potential to work better for its people. He is now in the process of setting up a new Government to build a Bermuda based on social and economic equity, leaving no one behind. He understands how to work with people and sees each day as holding new opportunities to learn and grow. Inexperienced? Some pundits may say so, but the record speaks for itself.”

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Published Dec 20, 2012 at 9:09 am (Updated Dec 20, 2012 at 9:09 am)

‘It’s a big learning curve’

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