System needs to embrace both Bermudians and visitors

  • Ben Smith is the Shadow Minister of National Security and the MP for Southampton West Central (Constituency 31)

    Ben Smith is the Shadow Minister of National Security and the MP for Southampton West Central (Constituency 31)

The following is an edited version of the speech delivered during the motion to adjourn in the virtual House of Assembly on June 5, 2020

The Premier announced last evening that Bermuda should be moving to Phase 3 on June 11. This news will be welcomed by the population as we should see more of our people returning to full employment and some returning to partial employment as businesses cautiously reopen to see what the economy will look like.

This should also see more people being able to collect their wages and salaries and no longer require the government benefit. As we go through this process, we will begin to see what the new unemployment number will be and what decisions will need to be made to solve the issues with our economy.

It is important to point out that the Bermuda economy was not in a healthy position before Covid-19. There were difficult decisions to be made before Covid-19 because of our debt, increase in taxation and slow growth, but the novel coronavirus has just moved up the timeline.

The Covid-19 Economic Advisory Committee formed by the Minister of Finance will be looking for solutions on how to jump-start the economy and move Bermuda towards recovery. However, we must remember that solutions to get out of our economic struggles were put forward before this emergency.

The Bermuda First National Socioeconomic Plan stated that Bermuda needed immigration reform. Population and talent pool were decreasing, which could potentially compromise economic growth. The report goes on to say that developing a plan and legislation that attracts international talent is essential.

It is important to bring this up now when there have been public statements related to immigration, followed by a policy being implemented regarding work permits being denied.

Immigration, as I have stated before in this Honourable House, is an emotive subject because of the way it was used as a racist tool in the past. In the present climate, it is racially charged owing to the continued way that black people are treated as lesser than human ó a situation that in far too many cases has led to their murder.

Watching the death of George Floyd should change any person who watches it. I am fully aware of, and have experienced, how black people have been treated locally and overseas, but we cannot ignore what impact a failing economy will have on all people in Bermuda.

We must continue to strive to change a system that has ingrained systematic racism that has kept some hard-working Bermudians from progressing in their fields and pushed others out completely. We need to also be mindful that there are some that have been able to flourish in the Bermuda economy.

We must not cut off our nose to spite our face. We can work together to change the system so that all Bermudians are given proper opportunity for employment in their country without tearing down our economy.

We have seen large numbers of guest workers leave our shores in the past because of policies that showed they were not welcome. Have we every analysed what impact that exodus had on the overall economy of Bermuda?

What was the reduction in the taxes collected?

What was the impact on rental incomes for Bermudians?

What impact did it have on Bermudian-owned retail stores?

Were Bermudians better off after so many non-Bermudians were pushed out? No.

We must remember the positive connections that happen with immigration. Every guest worker in Bermuda made a choice to come to join our community. We all embrace our tourists who choose Bermuda as a destination and work together to make their stay enjoyable with the hope that they return.

Do we know how many individual tourists it takes to match what is