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Cannonier: I was ‘tricked’ over Jetgate

Craig Cannonier

One Bermuda Alliance leadership hopeful Craig Cannonier said yesterday he was given “terrible advice” from senior political colleagues during the Jetgate row that ended his term as premier.

Mr Cannonier added that there was a culture of agendas and he was “deceived” around the time of his sensational 2014 resignation.

He was speaking after he prepared last night for a political comeback attempt to once again lead the OBA.

And he insisted he had learnt from “the good, the bad and the ugly” of his early political career.

Mr Cannonier, up against Patricia Gordon-Pamplin and Jeanne Atherden for the job of Opposition leader, told The Royal Gazette: “I placed a lot of trust as a new politician in the expertise around me and that expertise failed me.

“That expertise gave terrible advice and it runs much deeper than what people thought. That has been a massive lesson for me to learn that there can be such agendas, and that it can be a constant battle of looking over your shoulder to ensure that you see what is going on.

“No one likes to be deceived or tricked. I believe that based on those lessons having seen the good, the bad and the ugly I am well equipped to go forward.

“If people want to bring up Jetgate and the likes — the reason nothing came of it is because there never was anything.

“Obviously I learnt my lesson there. I did not act unilaterally. That was an extremely painful lesson from something so innocent.”

The Jetgate controversy erupted after a trip to Washington, DC by Mr Cannonier, Cabinet ministers Mark Pettingill, the late Shawn Crockwell and OBA supporter Steven DeCosta.

The MPs and Mr DeCosta travelled to the US capital on the private jet of American businessman Nathan Landow to discuss a potential hotel development on the island.

Mr Landow later said that he and associates made a donation of around $300,000 to the Bermuda Political Action Club to help the OBA’s 2012 election campaign.

The BPAC was reported to have been set up by OBA adviser Derrick Green and Mr DeCosta, although it was not part of the OBA party machine.

Former finance minister Bob Richards said after the OBA was hammered in July’s elections that Mr Cannonier was the “fall guy” for the Jetgate controversy, which also involved his Cabinet colleagues Mark Pettingill and Shawn Crockwell.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin — who became interim leader after former premier Michael Dunkley quit in the wake of the OBA defeat — said party members and MPs had convinced her to go for the permanent role because they felt nobody else stood out.

She added: “When we lost the election I offered to step in on an interim basis so it gave us the opportunity to regroup, breathe and consider our direction going forward.

“It also gave members of our team — especially those who might be interested in leadership — [time] to present themselves and to stand out as shining stars in carrying the party message and philosophies.

“I indicated that my term would be an interim measure but I received requests from some of our Parliamentarians and party members asking that I reconsider as they didn’t feel that anyone stood out, who had taken the mantle or stepped up to the plate.

“In agreeing to reconsider, I am more than willing to be supportive of whomever should win — I have zero ego.”

Ms Atherden argued her “vision, skills and experience” could help the OBA rebuild.

She said: “It is important for us to reconnect with those persons who believe in the values and vision that we have and that means getting out and getting the branches back up and running.

“We need to get people to see that we are out there to ensure that their issues are addressed. We were founded on the principle of cohesion and so we have got to work for one Bermuda — we have got to work for everybody.”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said the OBA had struggled to convince voters over its good work to repair the economy.

She added: “It requires introspection so we can determine exactly how we can bring ourselves to be accepted by the electorate.

“Unfortunately, it was made out by our opponents that we didn’t care about our people and at no time did they ever take responsibility for the state that they left the country in.

“When you are so overwhelmed with the amount of work that you have to do, that becomes your focus. That communication was lacking and we learnt from that.

“What I will not accept is what the PLP has attempted to paint us — as the party that didn’t care about the people. If we didn’t stabilise the country then nobody would be in a position to have any kind of benefit.”

Mr Cannonier said: “I believe that the statement was that we didn’t listen well enough. We knew what the issues were. The priority for the party now and the biggest challenge is the party itself.

“If we start looking at what is needed to rebuild the party then the leadership contest becomes very easy in making that decision.

“This gives us a golden opportunity again to rebuild the party and gain the trust of the people and there is no question we can do it. I was a part of that in 2012.

“My strongest point has always been that I know how to identify with the people because I am the people. I didn’t grow up a politician — I grew up with regular people, with a single mom who was trying to make things balance, having to fight to own my own business without the assistance of someone else.

“I know what it means to be a black man in Bermuda to go through the struggles that he goes through, but I also believe that we have a great opportunity to break down those barriers. It is going to take some very courageous people and I am one of them.”

In addition to the leadership battle, Nick Kempe and Simone Barton are in contention for the position of chairman while Justin Mathias or Nandi Outerbridge are lined up for the two deputy chairman positions.