Pathways minister quits politics
Michael Fahy’s decision to quit politics may be etched with disappointment at the thumping the party he helped to form took at the polls on July 18. But he remains adamant that the One Bermuda Alliance left the country in a better position than it found it, while acknowledging there were areas where it fell well short.
The former government minister, who repeatedly found himself in the firing line of opposition to the OBA’s policy agenda, fervently believes that immigration reform is the way forward for the island.
He maintains that contentious decisions to scrap term limits, reform work permits, introduce minicars and wrestle authority away from the Corporation of Hamilton’s fractious administration were the right thing to do.
But he also openly admits that the party he helped to found in 2011 achieved very few of its education pledges and simply failed to effectively communicate to the public the reasons for policy decisions.
“I really wish we had done a better job in communicating the reasons for what we were doing,” Mr Fahy told The Royal Gazette. “We were good technocrats, but not good politicians.”
He added: “The overwhelming negativity and, frankly, the huge amount of misinformation and also our inability to counteract it in a timely fashion was incredibly stressful.
“The picture painted by the Opposition of me being this anti-Bermudian foreigner was desperately unfair and completely inaccurate.
“Every policy put in place was for the benefit of all Bermudians; many might not have seen that, but in the long term the policies introduced in relation to work-permit policies have, and will continue to have, positive economic effects.
“The scrapping of term limits had an immediate effect on instilling confidence with the international business sector.
“The truth is you can change work permit policy all you want, but without a first-class education system and proper career guidance in the schools, we are doomed.
“Education is the one huge arena where politics has interfered for too long and has directly impacted the ability of many Bermudians to participate in the IB sector or even set up a successful business.”
Mr Fahy said he had twice offered to resign during the OBA tenure. The first was in May 2014 after Craig Cannonier resigned as Premier over the Jetgate scandal because the party’s constitution dictated that senators appointed by Mr Cannonier should, with the second coming during the protests against Pathways to Status outside the House of Assembly in March last year.
“I did not want Pathways to become all about me,” he said. “It was not so much about the opposition to it, but it was a Cabinet decision and I felt that parliamentary colleagues were wavering in their support.
“I felt that if there was a lack of confidence in me I would and should step aside; but my offer was not accepted.”
He said that he was disappointed that Pathways to Status was never debated in the House of Assembly, adding: “It’s really unfortunate that things ended up the way they did.
“Looking back we should have had more people speaking to its aims and a stronger education campaign on its long-term intent to move it out of the realm of mistrust and the perception it was based on race.
“I still believe Pathways to Status is exactly the route to go for Bermuda given our declining population and need to sustain a service economy. We are not going to have economic success unless we have international business and people doing business feeling secure.
“I never imagined it would result in protests like it did. There was a sense of support for why these policies needed to come forward as we were dealing with a string of court cases and immigration appeal cases that were bringing this to the fore.
“It is simply wrong that people who have been born here and then been here for 18 to 20 years have no rights.
“What was false and disingenuous was to suggest these policies were based on race. It was just completely wrong and sad that people thought that and judging by the results in the election the recent grants had no effect on the result based on the Opposition’s argument.
“The plight of long-term residents in Bermuda still needs to be dealt with, even by the working group that was formed afterwards, so if Government won’t do it then the courts will, and there will be decisions people don’t like.”
Mr Fahy’s decision to step away from politics comes more than a decade after he entered the fray in 2006 as a branch manager for the United Bermuda Party in Constituency 10.
He went on to be appointed to the Senate in 2008 under then leader Kim Swan before leaving to become one of the founding members of the Bermuda Democratic Alliance, which later joined with the UBP to form the OBA in 2011.
He directed the party’s election campaign and took on the roles of home affairs minister and Senate leader when it came to power in December 2012.
Mr Fahy insists the OBA left Bermuda better off than when the party took power and describes it as “unfortunate” that in some quarters he was public enemy number one.
“At first you try to ignore the negativity and the personal attacks,” he said. “It’s a small community and you run into people every day that either like you or do not.
“It was important for me that I could get up and look in the mirror and know that what I am doing is ultimately the right thing for Bermuda, and I really believed it was.
“When I spoke with people who had the gumption to say negative things to my face, most of the time talking facts and numbers calmed the waters down.
“I evaluated the reasons why I got involved in the first place and those original principals of doing the right thing. I believed I could make a fundamental change for the good and hoped that the community would understand.
“It’s difficult with a family; you want to shield them from it, you make sure they don’t watch the news, you don’t want them to see the negativity.
“I hope people remember that political decisions and policies are made by Cabinet. I may have been the lead minister on difficult issues, but it was annoying that some described the policy as Michael Fahy’s Pathways. It was a Government decision.”
Mr Fahy conceded he was surprised by the extent of the General Election defeat “and especially disappointed for St George’s because of the work we had done to get cruise ships back there, a new hotel and also major investment in infrastructure projects”.
But he also acknowledged that the OBA suffered perception issues after Mr Cannonier stepped down.
He said: “It’s incumbent upon us to ensure the PLP does not fail, but we cannot oppose just to oppose. The community needs to be offering to help the PLP. We need international business to give support and advice to the PLP, and we need local business, hotels and the man on the street to give support to Government to make sure we are successful.”
Asked if he would do anything differently, Mr Fahy replied: “I would have done more; we should have made more fundamental changes in government organisation.
“The Sage report lost us a year and we failed to implement recommendations quickly enough. If we had come out of the starting gates faster and were more serious about outsourcing some government contracts it could have spurred economic growth without redundancies.”
Meanwhile, he dismissed claims that he went Awol in the run-up to the election.
“I was not running; I certainly thought about it, but I had to make a balanced decision based on what was important to my family and I believed as a minister in the Senate I was making a positive difference,” he said.
“If you’re not running you give that opportunity to be seen and heard to those running so the public understand who they are voting for.
“I have a fantastic and supportive wife and three young children. My employer was supportive and I’m looking forward to fully re-engaging in my career as a lawyer.
“I’m disappointed for the OBA, but personally I’m happy now. You don’t realise sometimes when you are doing everything you can in the public eye that you are wearing an invisible 100lb pack on your back and that has been lifted now. I made it clear to the OBA that I am retired after ten years of political involvement.
“History will show that we tried to do what was right and we tried to do it without fear, favour or prejudice.”
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