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The devil is in the detail – or perhaps it’s not

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As discussed yesterday, a party's platform should be a vital guide to how a party will govern if elected. It should also show that the party is ready to govern from Day 1.

The One Bermuda Alliance's platform, released over the weekend, does neither, because it is so short on detail.

That may be because of the suddenness of the election call, but beyond using the OBA's record when it was in government to argue that it will successfully encourage new investment to Bermuda as a means of rebuilding the economy after Covid-19, much more detail is needed.

Surprisingly, the party's major initiative is buried towards the back of the document: a deep-rooted governance reform, including dropping the Westminster system in favour of proportional — described as proportionate in the platform — representation. Other reforms include fixed-term elections and a reduced House of Assembly and Cabinet.

These proposals are welcome.

It has become increasingly clear in the years since the introduction of genuine democracy in Bermuda that the Westminster system is unhealthy for a community this small, and has been a drag on the island's progress.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, the winner-takes-all system is unnecessarily adversarial, which forces artificial divisions in the community. There is no better example of this than the Covid-19 episode in which political parties and the community came together to fight a common threat. That community cohesion was then shattered when David Burt, the Premier, called an election to secure a new mandate just three years into his party's term.

Second, it wastes talent, especially in a small community. Bermuda needs its best minds tackling its problems at all times. Yet the system means that some of those minds are condemned to the Opposition benches for years on end.

Most politicians will admit this in their more reflective moments. The problem has always been to find a system that is an improvement on it. Winston Churchill popularised the saying that democracy was the worst form of government apart from all those that had preceded it, and the same may be said of the Westminster system.

But, in fact, many countries have successfully used variations on proportional representation. Where steps have been taken to prevent the atomisation of political parties into ever smaller parties and ever more unstable coalitions, they have proved to be both more responsive than, and as durable as, the highly centralised methods of the Westminster system.

Craig Cannonier and his OBA have not gone into little detail on how they would ensure its stability or indeed why they want to make the change. But the commitment is a welcome one and he should explain further what the party has in mind before the election tomorrow.

On the most important issue facing the island — the economy — the OBA lays out a strong series of principles, but is short on detail.

There are some specific proposals, including welcome duty deferrals for retailers, which would presumably enable them to pay Customs duty closer to the time goods are sold, a longtime problem. The OBA would also make it easier for small businesses to get government contracts.

Perhaps most importantly, the OBA promises to introduce recommendations from the Sage report, Bermuda First and other dust-gathering missives. Which is welcome, although there is no indication of which reforms would be introduced, or in what order.

The OBA's major tax cut appears to be the abolition of the sugar tax, and Mr Cannonier has exposed the farcical failure of the Government to use the revenues from the tax for public health programmes as promised, but it seems unwise to abolish the tax entirely. Why not reduce it and ensure the funds generated are used as intended?

In tourism, the OBA promises to protect the Bermuda Tourism Authority's autonomy, which is welcome — as is the concept of treating long-term, remote workers as visitors. In education, the OBA promises an independent authority, which the PLP has also come to support, and also proposes to “realign” (extend) the school day to include extracurricular activities — long overdue. It also proposes to continue middle schools, where the PLP plans to abolish them.

There are other proposals, including better support for the uniformed services, but, overall, the OBA platform is more platitude than policy. Much of what it says it wants to do is inarguable, but there is so little detail that it is hard to know how it plans to accomplish its generally laudable goals.

This suggests that the OBA was unprepared for the election call, and while this newspaper disagrees with the election's timing, that is no excuse.

To be fair, the OBA has been more aggressive in its press conferences and has scored points especially in its support of the uniformed services. In Monday night's TV interview, Mr Cannonier argued for the need to increase the island's population, presumably through immigration reform of some kind. But the platform, perhaps unsurprisingly given the third-rail nature of immigration, is almost entirely silent on this question.

A platform should give its reader the idea that the party is ready to take up the reins of government from Day 1. The OBA platform suggests that would not be the case if it was fortunate enough to win eight additional seats tomorrow. That's a shame because Bermuda's voters should have a real choice and the OBA has some capable MPs and candidates.

They may be ready for government one day, but on this reading, it won't be in 2020.

One Bermuda Alliance leader Craig Cannonier (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published September 30, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated September 30, 2020 at 1:56 pm)

The devil is in the detail – or perhaps it’s not

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