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Trust essential for Immigration reform

Politics can be very much a matter of broad strokes, with opinions and preferences formed by impressions, relationships and histories — both family and personal. It is a factor that should be never overlooked or discounted as being of no little or no consequence.

I mention this by way of a preface to the subject this week: that which is loosely described as immigration reform.

I use the word “loosely” deliberately. Immigration reform means different things to different people. To some, it means the obvious, if not the only, way to boost a flagging economy. But to others, there is an historical legacy to imported labour and what it has meant: a means to marginalise Bermudians, Black Bermudians in particular — whether in the workplace or at the polls — through a three-year residency vote along with what used to an annual grant of status, both of which have been long since done away with.

But memories linger on: more specifically the object, as it then was, to entrench the status quo.

It is therefore no wonder that immigration and immigration reform is generally referred to as the third rail of Bermuda politics. It is an emotionally charged issue and, as a result, slow progress has to date marked attempts at change.

The present minister looked like he was laying the groundwork for change when he recently pronounced publicly on the need for immigration reform or otherwise Bermuda was running the risk of falling off the fiscal cliff — or reported words to that effect.

It was too much for the Opposition and other critics to resist. The usual suspects, yawn, who once again were unavoidable for comment. True, there was the inescapable irony. The minister had been one of those who led the charge against reforms proposed by the One Bermuda Alliance when it was in government.

However, we don’t as yet know precisely what sort of reforms the minister and the Government have in mind or the extent of them. Details are still to emerge — and attention to detail is what we look to members of the legislature to provide when the time comes to examine, assess and advise.

In the interim, some advice: keep your powder dry until we see what the Government rolls out and, to the extent possible, put your collective shoulder to the wheel in support, especially when immigration reform is said to be a shared goal. BTW, how is it going with the Immigration Reform Working Group?

It is also not that unusual, either, to have an opposition pick up in government that which it once criticised or opposed when it was on the other benches. That’s just politics, we learn, one of the drawbacks possibly to the Westminster system — an opposition that opposes for the sake of opposing.

Permit me an illustration, from memory. It was not long after the Progressive Labour Party had won the government for the first time in 1998. One of its ministers was on his feet in the House advancing a position, or maybe it was a policy, of which he had been a fierce and outspoken critic when his party was in opposition.

This about-face was quickly pointed out to him by way of an interpolation from the Opposition benches across the floor. It stopped him in his tracks, as I recall. He paused, thought about it and, never at a loss for words, replied something along the lines that: “Well, that was when we were the Opposition. We’re the Government now”.

Immigration reform means different things to different people

Sure, there was some embarrassment and some laughter, but it proved effective. It was an admission, and the truth, and it was disarming. There really was no further debate or argument on the issue. ( I am not naming the minister, but here’s a clue: he went on to serve as premier — and may not be the person you are thinking of.)

One final thought on these controversial issues: who can tackle them, and how? It ultimately comes down to a question of trust, and not just who voters can believe, but in whom they can believe — and believe to have their backs.

That, I think, was one of the messages of the 2020 election.

Not that trust would ever amount to carte blanche to proceed at will, without regard to the voters. On the contrary. It seems to me those were the lessons of the 2012 election, for the PLP, and of the 2017 election for the OBA.

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Published February 12, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated February 12, 2021 at 9:02 am)

Trust essential for Immigration reform

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