The thing about gaslighting
“Psychologists use the term gaslighting to refer to a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else [or a group of people] to question their own reality, memory or perceptions”
“The other thing to understand is that Algonquin [Belco’s holding company] is very skilled at manoeuvring around regulators. It is how it really makes its money.”
Jan Card, Letter to the Editor (The Royal Gazette, April 10, 2023)
First, let us start here. There is no one on the political level more of an expert on gaslighting people than David Burt, although Wayne Caines is trying desperately to make ground in this regard. These boyhood friends have ensured that traditional and older Progressive Labour Party voters can no longer tell the difference between the One Bermuda Alliance and their labour party. The Belco debacle demonstrates that in spades.
With respect to the gaslighting charge, the first bad sign was Belco’s and its Liberty holding company president Wayne Caines’s use of the term “family” in a press statement over a week ago. Perhaps a more accurate term to apply would not be “family” but rather unwanted stepchildren or hostages who live within that two-mile radius of those Belco smokestacks, including the Governor at Government House, as their health and property values plummet.
The term “family” was being conveyed in his immediate response to the white-hot and justified condemnation directed towards his company and the Liberty board led by chairman Barclay Simmons.
The term “family” is characteristic of the type of corporate communications jargon that is used to obfuscate and deflect, while falsely conveying a degree of empathy that does not and cannot exist in that type of transactional, commercial environment — notwithstanding that it is coming from a monopoly called Belco, which is polluting the immediate environment inhabited by its own consumers.
The term seeks to demonstrate that we are in this together — like a family but not quite — to mask the divergent interests at play here. And thus a classic example of gaslighting at its worst.
The first piece of advice I would give to Mr Caines, besides immediately discontinuing the use of heavy fuel oils, is to fire his speechwriter.
Maybe Belco was avoiding the cost associated with changing their dirty fuel — two years of ineffectually trying to stymie the problem. Yet in the end, after all the spin, rhetoric and mitigation that have compounded the delays in fixing the problem, Belco will still have no choice but to stop using the HFO, which was a decision unilaterally adopted a few years ago, as letter writer Jan Card reminded us.
It will be a costly measure but might have been far less costly if Belco had not ventured into the cost-cutting arena of using a cheap, inexpensive and dirty HFO in the first place.
There can be no cake and the political eating of it
The reality is that on the one hand you have a heavily subsidised monopoly with executives and board members with major shares in the company and earning significant incomes. And on the other you have the residents of a number of traditionally working-class largely Black PLP-voting neighbourhoods, along with school students and workers Black and White who are the most affected by living in the shadow of the greatest institutional polluter in Bermuda’s history. However, all of us will pay if the Government forgets which side of this issue it must come down on. There can be no cake and the political eating of it on this issue, and many others that we will be confronting over the next few years. Those days are over.
Where is Minister of Health, Kim Wilson, in all of this? Is this not a primary health issue that requires leadership? She has been silent on the West End Primary School issue, too. The conflict of interest, cynicism and, frankly, rank political cowardice has just been astounding around this issue.
So let’s recap.
I wrote in the last op-ed on this topic that what we were witnessing was death by a thousand breaths — that was a take on the description of the well-known ancient Chinese legal punishment death by a thousand cuts. The point is that those metallic-infused particles that are being emitted are not just found in the drinking water of the residents, students and workers in that two-mile radius and beyond, depending on the strength of the wind, but also in the air and lungs of those affected. In every breath they literally take.
They already know what the answer is
This is where the bottleneck with respect to the Belco debacle stands. Let’s not kid ourselves, the leadership at Belco and in the Government share some of the same faces. They already know what the answer is to this issue: end Belco’s dependence on heavy fuel oil. The question at the heart of the gaslighting occurring here is that all of above sectors — both at Belco and in government — are at a stalemate as to who will pay for it. Simple, right? Not so simple. Their so-called family be damned.
Now think about all that talk about studies, etc. It’s just Barclay, Caines and Co refusing to blink in this game of poker with their colleagues at the political level while they buy the most precious of commodities, which is time.
This is what we do know: the political and private-sector interests of Algonquin/Belco are aligned here against the broader public interest on a number of levels. Think about that.
Let me make it clear that I thoroughly support the view of Jan Card, who offered his take on the issue the other day. I will end with this key observation by him that all of Bermuda should consider:
“The Government’s job is to use the tools at hand — the Operating Licence Conditions imposed by the RA and the Public Health Act — to make it more expensive for Belco to continue this pollution than to fix it.”
He would add: “They need to do this work. Quickly.”
• Rolfe Commissiong was the Progressive Labour Party MP for Pembroke South East (Constituency 21) between December 2012 and August 2020, and the former chairman of the joint select committee considering the establishment of a living wage
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