Pressure group launches petition for gaming referendum
A pressure group has called on Bermudians to “rise to the occasion” in defence of democracy by signing a petition in support of a referendum on gaming.
At a press conference outside the House of Assembly this morning, the four members of the group — political activist Jonathan Starling, former United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan, environmental campaigner Stuart Hayward, and Michael Ashton — said a referendum on gaming was essential in order for the public to make an informed decision on the matter.
The One Bermuda Alliance had promised to hold a referendum within a year of winning the December 2012 general election. But last month Premier Craig Cannonier ditched that pledge, arguing that the Opposition had threatened to “disrupt” the process.
This morning Mr Starling said: “We are a diverse group of concerned Bermudians prepared to stand up for our democratic right as promised — a referendum to decide if casino gambling should be introduced in Bermuda.
“We stress that this call for referendum is not a partisan effort. Those of us involved in this are not involved in political point-scoring, of taking OBA or PLP positions; we are simply committed to the need to have a referendum to decide the issue of gambling in Bermuda.
“Nor are we here to represent a position for or against gambling, as our views range from against to indifferent to in favour. We are united only in our belief that a referendum on gambling is the most appropriate vehicle for deciding this issue. We believe that this transcends political party loyalties or even support or opposition to gambling itself, and we look forward to your support on this issue.”
Mr Starling said the petition focuses on casino gambling because “it is our understanding that the push for gambling today is a push for casino gambling, and not gambling per se”.
And he said that a referendum would not only put the decision in the hands of the public, but would also prompt discussion and debate on the issue, enabling the public to become better informed.
“While we take no position for or against gambling in general, we recognise that a referendum on casino gambling also allows for a wider conversation on gambling in general, and we think that such a wider conversation should be welcomed by all as part of an educational process involving all sectors of society.
“Referendums offer an opportunity for public education and discourse on a contentious issue, ensuring that both the electorate and the politicians focus on an issue in a concentrated way, and to allow us all, as a society, to learn quite deeply about the topic at hand. Quite frankly, the direct democracy of a referendum enhances political knowledge of the issue in question.
“We believe that voters are perfectly capable of making complex decisions provided that there is adequate public education on the issue in question. We either agree that the people are capable of such decision making — a cornerstone to our very commitment to the democratic system — or we argue that they are not, and thus enter a slippery slope away from democracy.
“It would be a backwards step to take the view that some issues are just too complicated for the electorate to understand; that would be a return to an aristocratic principle of government that we have rightly taken so many steps away from in the last century.”
Petition sheets are to be placed in a number of public locations and a link to an online version of the petition can be found on the group’s website at http://Bermuda referendum.wordpress.com
What the petition states
“We believe that the issue of gambling is best decided by an informed and educational process leading up to a neutrally worded referendum question on the issues. We call on the Government to return to its commitment to a referendum on gambling.
“We, the undersigned, registered voters of Bermuda, hereby petition the Premier and the Government of Bermuda to hold a referendum on the legalization of casino gambling in Bermuda, using a neutral question ‘do you support the legalization of casino gambling in Bermuda?’”
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